A Debate on “Good Without God”

In the latest issue of the Secular Student Alliance’s eMpirical, there’s a debate on Greg Epstein‘s book Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe:

Sharon Moss, president of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, is a fan of Epstein’s message:

If our message is going to reach beyond just white men — to get the majority of nontheists off the couch and into our movement — we need to get our faces out of the philosophy books from time to time. We can take cues from other movements and embrace both our firebrands and our diplomats. It takes all kinds — and different points of entry — to make a movement. Good Without God is a push to get us there.

Frank Bellamy, president of the Secular Student Alliance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, thinks the book does more harm than good:

… what makes Good Without God offensive to me is that unlike the “new atheists” (as he calls them), who do not claim to represent all secular people, Epstein has the arrogance to claim he speaks for you, me, and everyone else who does not believe in a god (see the subtitle). He clearly does not. I agree with PZ Myers, who said, “just as we can be good without god, we can also be good without rituals, good without sacraments, [and] good without priests and chaplains.”

Where do you stand on the book and its premise?

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  • NewEnglandBob

    The premise of the title is obvious and known to be true, but the book is deeper than that.

    This book had me thinking deeper than I have for a long time. Epstein is trying to explain a philosophy as well as a means to attain it. Some of his suggestions are useful and some of his thoughts are great for deep discussion.

    I differ from his call for rituals because I think that can be satisfied in other ways. I also differ with Epstein’s accommodationism. Vocal and public is working well right now. It is opening up the eyes of many.

    I rated the book as a 4.5/5.0.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=100000016895400 littlejohn

    I haven’t yet read the book, but based on excerpts, I’m in PZ’s corner on this one. Have your rituals if you want to – mine involves a glass of Scotch before bedtime – but they have nothing to do with morality.

  • June

    The book doesn’t speak for me and Bellamy goes over many of the reasons why. But if I want atheism to be freely known and expressed in society, I must accept that some people will promote variations on atheism that don’t define me.

    I wish the book had taken the stance that *some* atheists believe X, not that *all* do or should do, and I think it’s unfortunate that he chose to promote religion replacement. I’m tired of telling people that I don’t want/need a special purpose, belief in a higher power (naturalistic or not), or a defined moral code to be mentally stable and this book doesn’t help.

    But the title, like the atheist buses, is putting the question of god-free morality in people’s heads and that is good. We just need it quite clear that this is one book among many regarding atheism.

  • Country Squire Atheist

    Greg Epstein has written a charge to Humanists/atheists to accommodate moderate and liberal religious voices in “interfaith cooperation” regarding ethical and moral issues. I was disappointed in his approach, mainly for his strong “accommodationist” stance and his advocacy of prayer (p. 180), naming ceremonies (p. 191) and numerous other rituals. I wrote him to say that he sounds more like someone wanting to be a Unitarian-Universalist, complete with “church” ritual and festivals. I got no response. The idea of humanist or atheist “congregations” curls my remaining hair, I had enough of that as an Episcopal priest for 25 years. I’m all for community, but not another “church” in disguise.
    No thanks, Greg, enough already.

  • twirlgrl

    I haven’t read the book but based on second-hand info about it from several sources, I’m pretty certain Mr. Epstein does not represent me. The ideas presented do seem to have the ring of Unitarian-Universalism. I am not looking for ritual; I don’t need a pseudo-religion to feel fulfilled. I’m all for using a variety of tactics in the atheist “movement” but accommodationism shouldn’t be one of them.

  • http://hegartyblog.wordpress.com/ chegarty

    I’m closer to what PZ is saying, but I can see the point in Epstein’s ritualistic fascination. I don’t think its necessary or even remotely useful for the atheist community. Except for the scotch before bedtime. :)

  • Richard

    I was planning on reading his book, but reviews have turned me off because he is basically promoting UUism. Technically I am a unitarian universalist. I attend a large UU church and I am even on the odd committee. But I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the UUs. They promote this sort of pseudo spirituality which ranges from bizarre solstice festivals, to meditations, to hymn singing. Overall it is just a bunch of really really nice liberal, middle class intellectuals who want to do something on a sunday morning. If Epstein is promoting that, then I don’t need to read about it.
    I’d quit the UUs, but my wife (an ex baptist) wants to keep on going. So I keep going and I keep trying not to act bored.

  • Facts for Faith

    If atheists say there is such a thing as good, then I would assume they would concede there is such a thing as the opposite of good (evil). If this true, that good and evil exist, then one would have to assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between the two. In other words, there MUST be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When one assumes a moral law, you MUST posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. So, how can atheists deny God?

  • Ulrichomega

    I know this is off topic, but you have no idea how happy it made me to find out that RPI has a Secular Student Alliance group. That college just shot up there on my list. Thanks!

  • Steve

    Most people commenting on the internet about Epstein’s book haven’t actually read it. That said, I’ve read his book, met Epstein 3 or 4 times, and am on a committee which is working with him to institute a humanist chaplaincy at my university.

    Many people are quick to label him because he looks down on “new atheists.” I agree with the criticisms against this. There is nothing new about Dawkins or Hitchens. However, this isn’t Epstein’s selling point. Nor is a desire to return to a ritualistic life.

    Rather, Epstein focuses on the concept of a community. He cites the philanthropy work churches do incredibly often, and uses them as inspiration for godless activism. Humanist chaplaincies provide support for those of us who are in a culturally unfavored demographic. It is the sense of community and activism that Epstein pushes, but when commenters say he is “ritualistic” his message is warped.

    Many atheists take for granted that we can “be good without god.” Yet when Epstein suggests that we can form communities (like humanist chaplaincies) which unite nonbelievers for philanthropy related works, they are offended that he dares to suggest that all nonbelievers are alike enough to fit into his arbitrary umbrella. Epstein’s philosophy is simple, and frankly it does apply to most, if not all, nonbelievers.

    It’s really upsetting that so many misnomers are floating around about his philosophy. I wonder– if PZ published an unfavorable review of Friendly Atheist, how many of you would suspend your own ability to think for yourself?

  • Dan Covill

    I agree with Richard (is this the Richard you ask or a different one?) that it sounds like Epstein is promoting the kind of functions long fulfilled by the UU “church”. I’m for that, enthusiastically.
    (I wouldn’t call it “UUism”, because the “ism” suffix denotes a philosophy far more defined and coherent than what happens at a UU society! But I digress.)

    I consider the Unitarian-Universalists to be a Halfway House between religion and atheism. The congregations include many of both, by the way. Our family started going to a UU Society because my wife felt the need to introduce our children to a “religious” fellowship while I refused to go to a standard church. It worked out very, very well. The kids learned something about religion and morality in general, we exchanged philosophic ideas with people from a wide range of backgrounds, and the whole thing was dogma-free.

    We don’t go any more – the kids are grown and we don’t need to – but the UU Societies helped us break out of our Presbyterian background and look at religion from a broader perspective. As I said, a Halfway House.
    On a side note, UU Societies provide perfect “cover” for the newly unchurched who are having acceptance problems with their family/friends. When someone asks you, “What church do you belong to?”, you just say, “I’m a Unitarian”. They may raise their eyebrows slightly, but the UU has been around about 200 years, so you can’t be one of them atheists! And you’re not lying, either.

    If you’re a new agnostic/atheist that misses the fellowship and support provided by your old religion, go visit the local UU Society. You won’t be alone.

  • Aj

    …so-called new atheists’ view of religious people: that they are poison and ought to be hated or destroyed.

    Did Epstein really write that? What a douche. People who call anyone who writes things like that a “diplomat” are batshit. These “diplomats” are constantly coming out with lies and bullshit that only seem to have the purpose to provoke atheists and ingratiate themselves with the religious.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Isn’t Greg Epstein also a white man?

    I’m told that Greg Epstein is all about moving beyond the philosophizing and arguing, but what follows is always philosophizing and arguing about the “two kinds” of atheists and all that noise. How about we move beyond that?

    Personally, I like philosophizing. I don’t like arguing. I like community. I hate rituals. Spirituality, even the most materialistic kind, is just boring to me. I have many interests in my life that some might call “purpose” or “passion”, but I never think of them as such. I am who I am, and so are the rest of you.

  • Kate

    Yes, Greg’s message is about community, not about ritual per se, though many nontheists do want some kind of meaningful ritual for weddings, memorials, etc. I wish the book had talked more about what makes for a good community beside rituals for those that want them, such as good communication skills, which many people, nontheists or theists, don’t have or seem interested in developing. (And I appreciate this blog because of the skills of the writers and [most of] the commenters.)

  • Facts for Faith

    If atheists are correct and there is NO Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good”. Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.

    Second, without God being the moral standard that we measure good and evil, what does “good” mean? How is “good” to be defined? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone. It is total relativism. Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil, without God.

    So, although one can be good (as many atheists are) without BELIEVING in God; one cannot be good without there BEING a God. That is, one can believe in a moral law (and live accordingly) without believing in God. But they cannot justify this belief without reference to a Moral Law Giver (God).

  • http://reanhouse.blogspot.com Sarah

    I’m not a fan of rituals for rituals sake. It seems to me like some non theists simply replace religious rituals/ceremonies with a secular equivalent.

    “Naming ceremonies” come to mind (as my mother is trying to push me to have one for my (unborn) baby rather than a christening).

    Regarding the above poster “Facts for Faith” there is no moral law that prescribes “be good”. A lot of non theists (myself included) define our own morality along the principle of ‘first do no harm’. For example, for me, before I do something I think “how will this effect others?” and “how will this effect me?” If the answer is that it won’t hurt others (or me) and that it will maybe improve others (or me) then I do it. If not I rethink my plan.

    As social animals we’ve evolved to cooperate and help one another (be “good” if you will) in order to function in a social setting. In my experience whenever humans try to throw god into the mix we wind up being as far from good as is possible.

    Show me a non theist who believes gays should be killed (or at the very least denied basic human rights).

    Show me a non theist who thinks women are inferior to men.

    Show me a non theist who would deny a woman the right to choose what happens to her own body (be it abortion or access to contraception, or even the right to walk the streets without being assaulted).

    I can think of several high profile theists who try to deny gays basic human rights, say that women should be seen and not heard and apologise for rapists by saying that women “deserve” it for being immodestly dressed.

  • Edmond

    @Facts for Faith:

    Certainly you’ve heard of the Euthyphro Dilemma? If not, I’d encourage you to Google or Wiki this fascinating item. Remember, YOU’RE the one calling god “good”. How do you know this? Because he tells you so? I hope you don’t believe everyone who tells you this.

    Or do you call your god “good” because you ALREADY have your OWN sense of good and evil, cultivated in you by your family and your society, and you are applying that morality to your idea of god? Certainly you wouldn’t worship an EVIL god, doesn’t it make sense that a person would just automatically believe that their god was a good one?

  • Aj

    Facts for Faith,

    If atheists are correct and there is NO Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good”. Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.

    Natural laws aren’t prescriptions. “Be good” isn’t a prescription, it’s a state. Good exists in the universe, good isn’t an order or command. Why is God a moral law giver? How are these moral laws given?

    Second, without God being the moral standard that we measure good and evil, what does “good” mean? How is “good” to be defined? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone. It is total relativism. Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil, without God.

    If anything God says is moral, then if God says kill your son to test your obedience then that must be moral. Morality is therefore obediance to God, being good is obedience to God. If God tells you to kill others, rape, and be cruel, then you describe this as good. If you say God would never say these things, a) go read the Bible, and b) if you’re saying that God only says good things then good things are not whatever God says, they’re an independent standard and God cannot be a moral standard giver. If you say that God is a moral law giver, God can arbitrarily change what is good and what is bad. Instead of being relative to each person, morals are relative to God.

  • muggle

    I haven’t read the book but I find Epstein kind of creepy. I don’t trust him.

    I have to wonder why he’s advocating nonreligious chaplaincies and trying to religionize Atheism. As far as I’m concerned, once he succeeds in making a religion of Atheism, I become a Nontheist, damn it.

    On reading the comments about the book, I have to wonder if it doesn’t just prove me right that he’s not to be trusted. Why should we cowtow to rituals and religion?

  • Neon Genesis

    I love how whenever someone dares to criticisize the New Atheists, their fans will rush to their defense and say that atheists of all personality types have their place in the atheist vs theist debates, but when an atheist actually suggests a different tactic than the New Atheists, they’re an evil heretic who should be excommunicated from the New Atheist religion and all “true” atheists should be distancing themselves from their heretical ways. Oh, but the New Atheists aren’t a replacement religion at all, no no no. And AJ, I can already predict what you’ll say to me, so don’t bother.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    Nobody seems to have pointed this out, but we are asked to choose between only two of many different possible philosophical and practical approaches. There can be great value in a multi-pronged approach. There are short term needs and goals and there are long-term needs and goals. Perhaps if these were more clearly defined, we could operate more effectively as a “community”.
    One group or school of thought can concentrate on pressing for equality under the law, another can push for better education of school children in the areas of critical thought and logic. Other groups can work towards building communities as diverse as anything we have now, except without having theism as their foundation. Some can spurn ceremonies, others can embrace them. All of these efforts may not come from identical philosophical foundations. Why should they? To see this discussion in “either or” terms is to limit ourselves. We claim to celebrate diversity, but too often fall short of our own standards.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    FYI, you should all know this as the fallacy of bifurcation or false dichotomy. For clarification, I was not implying that Hemant made the logical error. The conversation thread grew legs and went off in that direction.

  • Gary

    To follow up on Edmond’s comment to Facts for Faith, allow me to suggest that to appeal, as FfF does, to a “Moral Lawgiver” implies that the actual content of the “laws” given by the Lawgiver are irrelevant, and indeed, arbitrary. For example, “Thou shalt not steal”, if not a “law” promulgated by the Lawgiver, could be judged to be no better, and indeed must be judged to be worse, than the contrary law, “Thou shalt steal”, if promulgated by the Lawgiver. In quasi-mathematical terms, “Thou shalt not steal + Lawgiver equals (is morally equivalent to) Thou shalt steal + Lawgiver.”

    In other words, FfF apparently subscribes to a moral philosophy in which “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt steal,” in and of themselves, are of equal moral validity. That is to say, neither can, on its own, be considered morally valid.

    Does FfF’s position change if we refer, not to moral “laws”, but to moral “principles”? If it seems somehow logically imperative to FfF that there must be a Lawgiver if there is to be a law, does he think it is equally imperative that there must be a Principle-giver if there is to be a principle?

  • Neon Genesis

    “Nobody seems to have pointed this out, but we are asked to choose between only two of many different possible philosophical and practical approaches.”

    Yet it seems like among atheist sites and the like, the New Atheist approach gets more praises among atheists than the accommodationist approach and it seems like those who offer a different approach to critiquing religion are branded as heretics even though those same people will claim all approaches have their place yet clearly decry some approaches more than others.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Neon Genesis
    Huh???? Did you understand ANY of what I just wrote? I make an argument that is for all practical purposes “accomodationist” and then you whine about how all atheists are not flexible. Completely bizarre. How can anyone take you serious when you pull a stunt like this? Do you really think everyone reading this is that f-ing stupid?

  • Ron in Houston

    You mean I can call myself an atheist heretic without being redundant?

    Amazing.

  • Facts for Faith

    Sarah;

    WHY should you “not do harm” to others? WHY is harming people wrong if there is no God?

    As you have suggested, atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, insist that morality is simply the product of evolution. You appear to be saying that we have evolved to possess moral sensibilities including “don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t steal” etc. However, rape may enhance the survival of the species, but does that make rape good? Should we rape? Killing the weak and handicapped may help improve the species and its survival (Hitler’s plan). Does that mean the Holocaust was a good thing? What if harming people enhances your survival and that of most others? Would it still be morally wrong, according to you?

    Evolution provides no stable foundation for morality. If evolution is the source of morality, then what’s to stop morals from evolving (changing) to the point that one day rape, theft, and murder are considered moral? Even if natural selection or some other chemical process is responsible for us knowing right from wrong, that would not explain why something is right or wrong. How does a chemical process (natural selection) yield an immaterial moral law? And why does anyone have a moral obligation to obey a chemical process? You only have a moral obligation to obey an ultimate personal being (God) who has the authority to put moral obligations on you. You don’t have a moral obligation to chemistry!

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    I love how whenever someone dares to criticisize the New Atheists, their fans will rush to their defense…

    Good job you don’t rush to the defense of Epstein or religion when someone dares to criticize either, otherwise that would make you a giant hypocrite.

    …say that atheists of all personality types have their place in the atheist vs theist debates…

    I’m sure when they said that they definitely meant that anything an atheist does they will support, exactly how you interpreted it. Otherwise you’d be demonstrating an astounding lack of comprehension that makes you continually misrepresent others, and incapable of having a discussion.

    …but when an atheist actually suggests a different tactic than the New Atheists, they’re an evil heretic who should be excommunicated…

    That’s exactly what’s happening, you’re so right, the reason people in this thread dislike Epstein is definitely not because of legitimate concerns but definitely is because he advocates different tactics to other atheists.

    Make sure that when you respond to this post, you misrepresent all my points, and then start arguing against something I didn’t write, even if I explain to you multiple times what I actually meant.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @ Aj
    Thank you for making my point much more eloquently than I did…
    TGM

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Facts for Faith trolled:

    If atheists say there is such a thing as good, then I would assume they would concede there is such a thing as the opposite of good (evil). If this true, that good and evil exist, then one would have to assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between the two. In other words, there MUST be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When one assumes a moral law, you MUST posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. So, how can atheists deny God?

    ‘Good’ is a label, not a thing. Good and evil exist as concepts, not as entities, and they exist only as concepts defined by human beings.

    The standards we use to judge good and evil are our own. Not good enough? Looking for an ultimate, objective source? Too bad! The universe doesn’t owe you one just because you believe really really hard that there must be one.

    In any case, morality certainly doesn’t come from a god. Euthyphro’s dilemma explains it quite nicely. Basically, either God defines ‘good’, which makes it arbitrary and based on God’s whims, or God likes that which is inherently good, which makes God irrelevant to the definition of good.

    Not to mention the problem with saying that God’s moral code is objectively true. Many people reject it. The reason we can do this is because we have a sense of morality that is instilled in us by society and by instinct, by which we judge the moral standards we’re presented. For you to assert that God’s will is good, you have judged his will to be morally acceptable, based on your own moral standards – which, of course, are unrelated to God.

  • Facts for Faith

    Edmond;

    Your dilemma is a false one. Is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good? Theists have traditionally taken a third alternative: God wills something because he is good. That is to say, what Plato called “the Good” is the moral nature of God himself. God is by nature loving, kind, impartial, and so on. He is the paradigm of goodness. Therefore, the good is not independent of God.

    Moreover, God’s commandments are a necessary expression of his nature. His commands to us are therefore not arbitrary but are necessary reflections of his character. This gives us an adequate foundation for the affirmation of objective moral values and duties.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @ Facts for Faith,

    …then one would have to assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between the two

    I’ll make it easy for you, ace. You adequately explain in a logical and coherent manner why ANYONE would HAVE to assume ANYTHING and I’ll convert right here, right now. No shit. Here’s your chance to do good and save a soul. Start typing…

  • Facts for Faith

    Mike the Infidel;

    If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
    Objective moral values and duties do exist. (Be good. Do not do harm.)
    Therefore, God exists.

    By objective values and duties, one means values and duties that are valid and binding independent of human opinion. Given a naturalistic worldview, human beings are just animals, and activity that we count as murder, torture, and rape is natural and morally neutral in the animal kingdom. If there is no one to command or prohibit certain actions, how can we have moral obligations or prohibitions?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Further trolling:

    If atheists are correct and there is NO Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good”. Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.

    Quite simple: WE are moral prescribers.

    Second, without God being the moral standard that we measure good and evil, what does “good” mean? How is “good” to be defined? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone. It is total relativism.

    Correct! But remember, ‘relative’ and ‘arbitrary’ are not the same thing.

    Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil, without God.

    Allow me to paraphrase what you’ve just said: “Without God, there is no objective difference between black and white; after all, God invented them.” See a problem here? Like I said – good and evil are human concepts. We define them. We set their limits and make them into discrete entities which can be distinguished from one another.

    So, although one can be good (as many atheists are) without BELIEVING in God; one cannot be good without there BEING a God. That is, one can believe in a moral law (and live accordingly) without believing in God. But they cannot justify this belief without reference to a Moral Law Giver (God).

    If it were proved to you at this very moment that there is no God, you would likely go on being a decent person. No ethereal command or compulsion is required for you to behave in a way that allows you to get on well with your peers. To claim that it is required is utter hogwash. Not to mention that “there is no objective moral law” has no logical connection to “it is impossible to behave well without a god.”

    WHY should you “not do harm” to others?

    Because I don’t want to, and society would collapse if we did this on a regular basis.

    WHY is harming people wrong if there is no God?

    See above. This really isn’t a very difficult question. Only believers seem to have trouble with it. Nonbelievers get along just fine without thinking that our behavior is meant to be pleasing a cosmic king.

    If evolution is the source of morality, then what’s to stop morals from evolving (changing) to the point that one day rape, theft, and murder are considered moral?

    You mean as they were when performed by the Israelites in the Bible? I’ll tell you what: Society. Evolution is a source of part of our morality – not the entirety of it. Our societies keep people in check because ideas like “don’t rape” and “don’t steal” tend to lead toward stable societies, and stable societies tend to thrive. It’s natural selection on the scale of nations.

    How does a chemical process (natural selection) yield an immaterial moral law? And why does anyone have a moral obligation to obey a chemical process?

    It doesn’t, and we don’t. You can go out and rape, murder, and steal if you want. We’ll just happily put you in jail for it when you’ve been caught.

    You only have a moral obligation to obey an ultimate personal being (God) who has the authority to put moral obligations on you.

    From where is this authority derived? From being the biggest, oldest kid on the block? Surely not. I have no obligation to such a being, even were it to exist.

    Theists have traditionally taken a third alternative: God wills something because he is good.

    This is not an alternative. This is a circular definition. God wills something because he is good, and God is good because he wills good things. It does absolutely nothing to get you out of the dilemma. You still have to deal with the fact that you are asserting that God is good when he is the one that defines ‘good.’ Here’s an exercise for you: Replace the word ‘good’ with any adjective at all, and your statement is still coherent. It’s just not meaningful. And neither is it meaningful in its original incarnatin.

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values and duties do exist. (Be good. Do not do harm.)
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    Wrong. You are arguing by assertion, which only works if your opponent agrees with you.
    1. Demonstrate this. I agree, but I’m not willing to say that I know for sure based on assertion. You would have to demonstrate that it is IMPOSSIBLE for there to be an objective moral standard without any god.
    2. Demonstrate that these ACTUALYL ARE objective moral values and duties, and not that you have simply labeled them as such.
    3. False conclusion based on failure of premise 1.

    Given a naturalistic worldview, human beings are just animals, and activity that we count as murder, torture, and rape is natural and morally neutral in the animal kingdom.

    Yes, and? We have an entirely speciesist view of morality.

    If there is no one to command or prohibit certain actions, how can we have moral obligations or prohibitions?

    Because WE CREATE THEM. They don’t come from anywhere else but ourselves.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I can’t help but laugh, by the way, at the idea that you can’t conceive of a universe without a God, yet you seem to be able to conceive of how people would behave in such a universe. Has the inherent contradiction in that occurred to you at all?

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @MikeTheInfidel
    It’s like shooting fish in a barrel…don’t you feel just a little bit guilty? BTW, you are the spitting image of my brother…you’re not an attorney, are you?

  • Gary

    Facts for Faith writes:

    God wills something because he is good,

    and further writes,

    If there is no one to command or prohibit certain actions, how can we have moral obligations or prohibitions?

    To “be good” is to behave in accordance with one’s moral obligations. Do you believe that God has moral obligations? If not, how can you call him good? But, if so, where, under your theory, do God’s moral obligations come from, if not given as commands to God by some Lawgiver higher than himself?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Not really. Disappointed, mostly, because he really seems to think these are things we haven’t considered before, or that we’ve never heard the argument posed his way.

    Facts for Faith: Trust me, I used to make the argument you’re making. It isn’t valid. It’s based entirely upon a pack of faulty assertions that you expect your opponent to accept without question. It’s also entirely too formulaic, and reflects that you’ve just barely scratched the surface of the questions you’re asking. Keep asking them, but without the assumptions, and you’ll likely end up a nonbeliever.

    Just remember: No amount of logical argument counts as evidence of the existence of your god. At best, you’re arguing for the possible existence of a generic objective moral standard. That doesn’t have to be Yahweh, let alone an intelligent being.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Hahaha, no, I’m not an attorney. I’m a technical writer. That and an overdose of Hitchens lead to me writing the way I do…

  • Aj

    Facts for Faith,

    Theists have traditionally taken a third alternative: God wills something because he is good.

    Therefore he is not a moral law giver, he’s a moral law sayer. Also, if he is good by nature, and moral laws are prescriptive, who prescribed this, does God have a god? Your third alternative isn’t compatible with your original argument.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    I’m still sitting here all unsaved ‘n stuff…*sigh*

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    On the actual subject:

    Epstein takes great pains to explain what we should do, but I’ve gotten halfway through the book without him explaining why we should accept his philosophy. Maybe I should keep reading…

  • Neon Genesis

    “That’s exactly what’s happening, you’re so right, the reason people in this thread dislike Epstein is definitely not because of legitimate concerns but definitely is because he advocates different tactics to other atheists.”

    See? I knew when I made my post you would respond in your same old predictable manner which I told you not to bother responding to my posts. Your only response to anyone’s post who dares to disagree with the almighty god of AJ is to proclaim they’re taking whatever you say out of context no matter what it is you’re saying. Yawn. Come back with an original refutation of my posts and maybe I’ll pay attention to you.

  • Aj

    …only response to anyone’s post…

    Very few people, but by far it’s you, mostly you, and most egregiously you. Perhaps you think “anyone” means just you. And it’s not just me, you seem to misrepresent many people, and seemingly on purpose. In this case, you seem to extrapolate what people say about you or others specifically, and misrepresent them as if it’s something they indiscriminately do.

    Your only response to anyone’s post who dares to disagree…

    People can clearly see this is what I do by looking at my posts in response to Facts for Faith, I must have accused that guy of taking me out of context numerous times according to your fantasy.

    …they’re taking whatever you say out of context no matter what it is you’re saying…

    Who is this “they’re”, are you multiple personalities now? It’s only you that takes *me* out of context. Also, that’s only one way you misrepresent people, you misrepresent people in many other ways.

  • Country Squire Atheist

    Oh boy, somehow this discussion got off
    the road way back with “Facts for Faith” chiming in on an atheist blogsite. Hummmm,
    do our sites always have to have theists coming on to “save” us from untruth? Let’s face it…there is no evidence for gods or a God, FfF, and there is no such thing as “natural law” which is a term concocted by early Christian writers like Augustine of Hippo and enshrined by the RC’s hero Thomas Aquinas. Let’s get over it and get on with life….and get back to Epstein’s provocative book which is, like most writers have said, a UU primer. Enough, already.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    Without regard to “Facts for Faith,” of whose fallacious posts I am tired of reading…I have not read the book, either. However, just on principle, I don’t like it when other people take it upon themselves to represent me without first consulting me. I think that atheists are certainly a very heterogeneous group that can’t be summed up in a single book. Just like all black people, women, Muslims, disabled people, etc. cannot be summed up by a single person writing a single book.

    I don’t think that atheism is a substitute for theism. That’s why it’s Atheism; non-theism. They’re not on the same dimensions. And if it atheism were to become an organized, ritualized substitute for religion, I would de-convert just like Muggle. I don’t think we as a collective need organized rituals or ceremonies to parallel those that religious people have, and it seems silly to try to make the case that we do or should. I would much rather sit around philosophizing and thinking and doing other constructive stuff than participating in some atheist ceremony.

    I also think it’s interesting that Epstein assumes that we are past the point where atheists receive equal validation as religious groups, because most of us would agree that that’s not the case. There is still prejudice.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Beth
    I agree with you 100%. Atheism isn’t a substitute for theism and it is arrogant to claim to speak for an entire demographic. But, if only some atheists started to look at it differently than you or me, maybe it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Surely, there will always be plenty of atheists like you or me who don’t go in for the chanting or singing :-). I doubt we will ever go away quietly.
    To me ceremonial mumbo jumbo is just silly, but if it’s not hurting anyone and it’s not promoting outright falsehoods…hey, why not?

  • Neon Genesis

    “Who is this “they’re”, are you multiple personalities now? It’s only you that takes *me* out of context. Also, that’s only one way you misrepresent people, you misrepresent people in many other ways.”

    There you go, doing it again. Yawwwwnnn. You’re so predictable.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I haven’t read Good Without God yet, but in a stroke of fortunate timing, my library hold just came through this afternoon. I’ll be picking up the book tomorrow and starting it as soon as I can. I hope it’s good. Speaking as a lifelong atheist, I really have no experience with religious rituals or religious communities, and one of my pet peeves is the tendency of many atheists to advocate that we replace religious-identified structures with atheist-identified ones. That just doesn’t “speak” to me. It’s not part of my background, and I would prefer that atheism didn’t become a carbon copy of theism in this way. I’m all for friendliness, but I do hope Epstein isn’t too accommodationist in his treatment of religion.

  • Country Squire Atheist

    Just a quick “thank you” to Hemant for giving a chance for people to review Greg Epstein’s book. I certainly appreciate the opportunity…which is, to me, somewhat long overdue.

    But, I think that this discussion would be more well served by comments only from those who have actually read the book. We often criticize those Christians and others who rail over books that premote atheism, particularly those who haven’t read one page of the book in question. Let’s not do the same thing, guys, OK?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Were it not for Myers, Hitchins, Dawkins, Coyne, and the rest of the assertive atheists (an epithet I much prefer to “new atheists”), Epstein would be a quiet voice at Harvard tending to his rituals. It is only by contrast with the assertive atheists that he finds an audience. That is not a necessarily critique, but recognizes that his message of accommodationism and adoption of the trappings of religious rituals would be thought to be (even more?) ludicrous were it not for the contrast with the assertive atheists.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-24595-Tulsa-Freethought-Examiner Lawrence

    I have read the book. I like it. I have heard the criticisms that it a water-down and slightly religious Humanism.

    However, the freethought community is large enough for an Epstein and a Dawkins. There is a range of freethinkers from those who want to abandon anything remotely religious to those who have no offense to ritual.

    We should not stub our toes by trying to be only one type of freethinker.

    Also, Epstein’s goal is to get his book into the hands of the superstitious believers as a way to explain Humanism. The book is easy to read and is intended for a larger audience. I applaud his goal and his approach to trying to be a bridge between believers and freethinkers.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    @ The Godless Monster: you’re right, I suppose. To each her or his own.

    And I would certainly hope that atheists like us wouldn’t go away quietly. Diversity is where it’s at. :)

  • Neon Genesis

    “Were it not for Myers, Hitchins, Dawkins, Coyne, and the rest of the assertive atheists (an epithet I much prefer to “new atheists”), Epstein would be a quiet voice at Harvard tending to his rituals.”

    That didn’t stop Bart D Ehrman who is an accommodationist agnostic from publishing books on biblical scholarship and religion since the late 1980s which was long before Dawkins and .co arrived on the scene.

  • cathy

    @godless monster “To me ceremonial mumbo jumbo is just silly, but if it’s not hurting anyone and it’s not promoting outright falsehoods” Except that atheist ‘churches’ that model themselves after organized relgion end up acting like organized religion, perpetuating all of the problems that entails. There is a huge difference between, say, painting eggs in the spring (because you like it not because you believe it will distract demons), and thinking that these ritualistic structures should be the way we organize ethics and society. The former is just a form of playing fun games, the later gives you all of the same issues as organized religion. The trouble with living a religiously dominated culture is that religion is allowed to supplant community. You don’t need religion for community and you don’t need wooey rituals either.

  • Ron in Houston

    MiketheInfidel said:

    Facts for Faith: Trust me, I used to make the argument you’re making. It isn’t valid. It’s based entirely upon a pack of faulty assertions that you expect your opponent to accept without question. It’s also entirely too formulaic, and reflects that you’ve just barely scratched the surface of the questions you’re asking. Keep asking them, but without the assumptions, and you’ll likely end up a nonbeliever.

    Great advice. I think we followed the same path of pondering those tough questions.

  • Facts for Faith

    Why do most humans have this deep-seated sense of obligation that we all ought to “help people” instead of hurt people? Why do most human beings seem to have that same intuitive sense that they ought to do good and shun evil? It is because there is a Moral Law that has been written on our hearts. In other words, there is a “prescription” to do good that has been given to all of humanity. The fact that a moral standard has been prescribed on the minds of all human beings points to a Moral Law Prescriber. Someone must have given us these moral obligations (God).

  • Sue

    @F4F – OR it’s because living in society has been incredibly successful for the human species, and in order to live together successfully, we need to suppress some of our more selfish impulses. Morality is a set of rules or guidelines to accomplish that.

    Morality says, the cohesiveness of the group is more important than the momentary desire of any one member. Therefore, if I want your ipod, I shouldn’t take it because that will make society function less well.

    Plus of course, if there were one Moral Law Prescriber, then morality across human societies would be more consistent. It isn’t consistent, not even what we would think of as the basics like “do not kill”.

  • Facts for Faith

    Mike the Infidel;

    You claim that morality comes from us. However, without an objective standard of meaning and morality outside ourselves, then life is meaningless and there is absolutely nothing right or wrong. Everything is merely a matter of opinion. So if atheists are correct, and there is NO objective moral law, then there is NO moral difference between the behavior of Mother Teresa and that of Hitler. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something – some Real Morality – for them to be true about.”

    If there is no objective, absolute moral law given by a Moral Law Giver (God), then it is just one person’s, one’s culture’s, one’s society’s OPINION against another. So, if this is the case, why was Hitler wrong?

  • Gary

    Facts for Faith:

    Nonsense. I have a “deep-seated sense” that people have a moral obligation not to other people in chattel bondage, but in the good ol’ US of A circa 1860, millions of people did not have have such a Moral Law(TM) written on their hearts by some “Moral Law Prescriber.” On the contrary, what they had written on their hearts was that human slavery was an institution divinely ordained among men by God Almighty himself. If anyone had any doubts that this was so, they were perfectly capable of demonstrating the “truth” of their position by the usual method — Biblical proof-texting. Anyone who said otherwise was a heretic.

    Today some people have a “deep-seated sense” that gays and lesbians are morally entitled to be married, while others have a deep-seated moral sense in the other direction. Some people have a deep seated sense that a woman has an absolute right to conrol her own body, while others have the deep seated sense that a fetus has a right to life. If your Moral Law Prescriber(TM) actually existed, it would be plain that he’s rather mediocre at writing moral laws on people’s hearts.

  • Facts for Faith

    Sue;

    Are lions immoral for killing their prey? Are black widow spiders immoral for killing their mates? Are bears immoral for occasionally eating their young? If humans are just another part of the animal kingdom, and natural selection is the mechanism to ensure the survival of our species, then would killing our enemies, stealing to benefit us, and rape actually be beneficial, just as we see it is beneficial in the animal kingdom? We do humans have rules against natural behaviors that could benefit their species and ensure their survival?

  • Facts for Faith

    Gary;

    I would argue that although everyone knows that there are absolute, objective moral obligations, some suppress and deny the truth to follow their own evil desires.

    “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

  • Gary

    Facts for Faith writes,

    I would argue that although everyone knows that there are absolute, objective moral obligations, some suppress and deny the truth to follow their own evil desires.

    Which is to argue that, although “everyone knows” there are absolute, objective moral obligations, some do not know this. It’s as though I were to argue that everyone — including you — knows that God does not exist, some of us suppress and deny the truth for one reason or another. But why would I want to make such an obviously absurd and fallacious argument?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Why do most humans have this deep-seated sense of obligation that we all ought to “help people” instead of hurt people? Why do most human beings seem to have that same intuitive sense that they ought to do good and shun evil? It is because there is a Moral Law that has been written on our hearts.

    No. It’s because the social groups that don’t have these kinds of values tend to destroy themselves or be destroyed.

    The fact that a moral standard has been prescribed on the minds of all human beings points to a Moral Law Prescriber.

    This is not a fact. This is an assertion that it is a fact. Kindly demonstrate that it’s actually true.

    Someone must have given us these moral obligations

    Were I to agree with your assertion, I would still disagree with this. Things don’t always come from “someone.” Sometimes they come from “something.”

    (God).

    And here we have precisely what is eviscerated in webcomic form on Hemant’s newer post “How the Teleological Argument Works.” You are asserting that your predetermined conclusion is the best explanation for a non-demonstrated asserted claim. Even were we to say that yes, someONE gave us a universal moral sense, you’ve gotten absolutely nowhere toward proving that it was any god, let alone yours.

    You claim that morality comes from us. However, without an objective standard of meaning and morality outside ourselves, then life is meaningless and there is absolutely nothing right or wrong. Everything is merely a matter of opinion.

    Life is inherently meaningless. We give it meaning. By the way, you’re not even making a rational argument here. You’re saying “outcome X is undesirable, therefore anything that leads to outcome X is false.” This is the fallacy of the argument from final consequences. Whether the outcome is the one you want or not is totally irrelevant to whether or not it’s true.

    So if atheists are correct, and there is NO objective moral law, then there is NO moral difference between the behavior of Mother Teresa and that of Hitler.

    Wrong again. Like I said: WE are the moral prescriptors.

    C. S. Lewis put it this way: “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other.

    He’s got it right so far.

    But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

    This is an assertion, not a fact. It’s also absolutely wrong. We all judge the morality or immorality of certain ideas by our own standards. Any claim that we’re judging them based on something else is a bit ridiculous, since you’re basically saying that you’re capable of knowing, to the finest details, the mind and opinions of another being. Were morality truly derived from a god, you could not possibly know its opinions on every moral dilemma – unless, of course, it was constantly speaking to you, in which case you now face the problem of knowing whether or not you’re being deceived.

    Would you say that the genocides commanded by God in the Old Testament were moral? Why or why not? If you can even slightly say “no,” you’ve just admitted that you’re determining your answer based on your own moral guidelines, rather than those of Yahweh, since he was the one that commanded them in the first place.

    Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something – some Real Morality – for them to be true about.”

    My moral ideas are my moral ideas. I don’t claim that they’re “truer” because I don’t believe that there is an objective standard. Your entire argument is based on this: “If there is no God, there is no objective morality.” And I agree. I just deny your assertion that there actually is an objective morality, because there is no evidence to bear this out that doesn’t require a massive number of unfounded assumptions.

    If there is no objective, absolute moral law given by a Moral Law Giver (God), then it is just one person’s, one’s culture’s, one’s society’s OPINION against another. So, if this is the case, why was Hitler wrong?

    Because we define morality. Save for a few outliers, nearly the entire human race has deemed Hitler’s actions immoral. The idea of morality by consensus may seem objectionable to you, but the fact that something seems displeasing has absolutely nothing to do with its truth.

    I also find the idea that God is an objective moral standard to be more than a bit laughable, considering just how often believers have recategorized what is and is not morally acceptable.

    If humans are just another part of the animal kingdom, and natural selection is the mechanism to ensure the survival of our species, then would killing our enemies, stealing to benefit us, and rape actually be beneficial, just as we see it is beneficial in the animal kingdom?

    You cannot get an “ought” from an “is.” The fact that something occurs naturally doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with morality or ethics. You cannot derive a moral prescription from biological facts. There is no logical connection between the two.

    [Why] do humans have rules against natural behaviors that could benefit their species and ensure their survival?

    Because we have figured out ways to promote our survival and the thriving of our species that work better than the purely natural ways. “Natural” does not mean “optimal.” Evolution works by keeping what works, not what is best. We, on the other hand, try to use rationality, logic, science, evidence, etc. to determine what works better. We’re an intelligent agency; we’re capable of making the sort of directed improvements that simply do not happen through natural selection. We have goals; natural selection does not.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I would argue that although everyone knows that there are absolute, objective moral obligations, some suppress and deny the truth to follow their own evil desires.

    All well and good that you’d argue that, but simply arguing it is useless. Provide some evidence that:
    1. There are absolute, objective moral obligations
    2. Everyone knows this
    3. Those who don’t follow them do it because their own desires are evil.

    Seriously, I said it before and I’ll say it again: Stop using assertions. They’re not arguments. You’re not going to get away with it here. Provide a rational argument to support your claims; don’t just make the claim and move on as if it’s agreed upon, because it isn’t.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Facts for Faith: Before you post again, I’d ask you to think for a minute if what you’re saying is really just a restatement of what you’ve already said, and whether or not it addresses any of the points we’ve raised. Repeating your arguments in different words is not the same as making a point or proving your case.

    By the way, quoting scripture is also not the same as making an argument. Recognize that most of us view it as mythology and commentary on mythology by people who think it isn’t mythology. I could quote bits of Shakespeare that agree with me, but I wouldn’t be making a factual point.

  • everettattebury

    MikeTheInfidel, have you ever heard of Alonzo Fyfe and his philosophy of desire utilitarianism? I heard a podcast about it on “Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot” and found it very interesting. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to an actual “objective morality”.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Nope, I haven’t heard of him before; I’ll have to look him up. Thanks for the reading material tip :)

  • http://reanhouse.blogspot.com Sarah

    Facts for Faith: you’ve missed the point I was making by a mile.

    WHY should you “not do harm” to others? WHY is harming people wrong if there is no God?
    Humans evolved as social creatures. If you live in a social group and you were a dick who was selfish and hurt other members of the group they would not like you. If they did not like you they would not help you find food or help protect you (and your offspring) from predators and the females wouldn’t want to mate with you so you’d have difficulty breeding. No god needed.

    As you have suggested, atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, insist that morality is simply the product of evolution.

    Yes! Morality (as we call it) is simply the product of our species having evolved as a social animal.

    You appear to be saying that we have evolved to possess moral sensibilities including “don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t steal” etc. However, rape may enhance the survival of the species, but does that make rape good? Should we rape?

    Rape may be good for the rapist to propogate his genes. However, rape is not moral because it causes harm (reread my first post). Just because something is good for passing on genes doesn’t make it moral. As previously mentioned scientific theories are a moral prescription.

    Killing the weak and handicapped may help improve the species and its survival (Hitler’s plan). Does that mean the Holocaust was a good thing?

    Killing the weak and the handicapped may help the group survive (the speed of the fleet is the speed of the slowest ship and all that) HOWEVER (and this is the point which you seem to miss with such vigour) WE EVOLVED AS SOCIAL ANIMALS. We lived in social groups and a consequence of that is EMPATHY. If you kill Joe because he’s got a bum leg and might slow you down then if you break your leg the group will kill you. Therefore, it’s self preservation for the entire group to protect the weak.

    As for the Hitler comparison I feel I must present you with your Godwin award (you officially lost the argument right there). Hitler didn’t concentrate so much on handicapped people as Jews. The majority of the people marched into the gas chambers were healthy and fit (well, as fit as one can be after travelling in a cattle car with no food or water for a week). Hitler wanted to create a “master race” and studied handicapped people to see WHY they were handicapped so that the Germans could prevent such handicaps in future generations. In any case Nazi Germany proves my case much more than it proves yours, “Gott Mit Uns” (look it up!)

    What if harming people enhances your survival and that of most others? Would it still be morally wrong, according to you?

    Again, read my previous post. (and earlier in this post). Harming “the other” (i.e. members of groups other than your own) would help your survival ie. less competition for food. Does harming someone do them good or does it harm them? It harms them? Then, by my definition it’s morally wrong.

    Evolution provides no stable foundation for morality.
    No one says it does. It helps explain WHY humans are (sometimes) moral.

    If evolution is the source of morality, then what’s to stop morals from evolving (changing) to the point that one day rape, theft, and murder are considered moral?

    See above. I’ve already discussed rape above.

    If a member of a group steals from other members of the group then they will turn on him and ostracise him therefore decreasing his chance of survival (we don’t have very good claws, speed, camoflage or teeth you know). Obviously there can be benefits to an individual who steals (as long as he doesn’t get caught) which is why people do it.

    If an individual murders someone in his group then he will be ostracised (see above consequences for theft)

    How does a chemical process (natural selection) yield an immaterial moral law?

    It doesn’t. No one says it does.

    And why does anyone have a moral obligation to obey a chemical process?

    We don’t. No one (except theists creating straw men) says we do.

    You only have a moral obligation to obey an ultimate personal being (God) who has the authority to put moral obligations on you. You don’t have a moral obligation to chemistry!

    Oh this old chestnut again. Why do I feel as though I’ve spent the last 10 minutes patiently explaining that 2+2=4 to a 4 year old? I, an others have explained this to you in excruciating detail. If you don’t get it by now there’s no hope for you.

  • william a zingrone

    Im sure Greg Epstein is a nice guy, but I thought his whole “ritual adoption” approach to be a bit flaky and not at all representative of the vast majority of non-believers. Most non-beleievrs drop the meaningless rtiuals along with the meaningless dogma and ideas. We dont need any of that BS to be good. Fred Bellamy’s observations are spot on.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Neon wrote

    That didn’t stop Bart D Ehrman who is an accommodationist agnostic from publishing books on biblical scholarship and religion since the late 1980s which was long before Dawkins and .co arrived on the scene.

    Ehrman writes scholarly works (and some popular works) of Biblical analysis. Epstein writes apologetics for a particular approach to secular/atheist life. Different animals. And in fact my guess is that Ehrman’s books sell better now, in the wake of the assertive atheists, than they did earlier.

  • cathy

    @facts for faith, you do realize that an objective moral view that allows for evil contradicts the existence of an all powerful, all loving god, right? So, you believe that (a) evil exists (b) God is defined as an omnibenevlent, all powerful being. But, if God has the power to stop evil but does not want to, then it is not omnibenevolent. If God wants to stop evil but does not have the power to, then it is not omnipotent. Moral realism and Christianity are in fact mutually exclusive. You might also want to look up the incredibly well developed non-religious objective moral theories (moral realist), such as utilitarianism, value theory,consequentialism, and kantian ethics.

    As to the eugenics issue, the basis of eugenics is flat out stupid from a biological standpoint. After all, what is fitness in a bioloogical sense? The ability to survive and reproduce within one’s environment. So, the fueling fear of eugenics that the ‘unfit’ will outbreed the ‘fit’ is just wrong because those that are good at producing offspring are by definition the fit. You don’t have to kil people or sterilize people to produce biological fitness, rather if you have to kill people or sterilize them to prevent their reproduction and survival, you have proved that, but for your intervention, they are fit. ‘The majority of the people marched into the gas chambers were healthy and fit’ If the people with disabilities were biologically unfit, eugenics would be moot. Also, what counts as acceptably healthy or mentally acceptable is for the most part culturally depenent. Eugenics and ablism have nothing to do with biological fitness and everything to do with cultural prejudice about which traits those in power prefer.

  • Facts for Faith

    Cathy;

    First, if an atheist asserts that evil exists, but God doesn’t, how do you know if it is evil? How do you know that there is injustice in the world if you don’t know that there is some ultimate standard of justice? So, you (as an atheist) are ungrounded in your belief that “evil exists and God doesn’t”.

    “My argument was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too…” (C. S. Lewis)

    J. Budziewski had a similar experience examining evil. “The more I thought about it, the more real it was. The more real it became, I had to ask myself, ‘How do I know what’s really wrong, if I don’t know what’s really right? How does one know something falls short of the standard of good, if you don’t know what the standard of good is?’”

    You see, if there is no standard by which a person may judge what is good or evil, the argument that “evil means there is no God” cannot stand.

    Second, evil doesn’t disprove God. Evil cries out for God!
    1) To explain how we know it is evil.
    2) To comfort us in our sorrow over evil.
    3) To give us victory over evil.

    CONCLUSION:
    “The problem with this argument is that there’s no reason to think that God and evil are logically incompatible. There’s no explicit contradiction between them. But if the atheist means there’s some implicit contradiction between God and evil, then he must be assuming some hidden premises which bring out this implicit contradiction. But the problem is that no philosopher has ever been able to identify such premises. Therefore, the logical problem of evil fails to prove any inconsistency between God and evil.

    But more than that: we can actually prove that God and evil are logically consistent. You see, the atheist presupposes that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil in the world. But this assumption is not necessarily true. So long as it is even possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, it follows that God and evil are logically consistent. And, certainly, this does seem at least logically possible. Therefore, I’m very pleased to be able to report that it is widely agreed among contemporary philosophers that the logical problem of evil has been dissolved. The co-existence of God and evil is logically possible.” (Dr. William Lane Craig)

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5350

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Thank you for, as predicted, just rephrasing what you said before and avoiding any points we made. You’re not debating or even having a discussion – you’re preaching. And it’s incredibly tiring.

    So long as it is even possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, it follows that God and evil are logically consistent.

    If your God is capable of producing a universe where evil cannot exist, but instead creates a universe where evil does exist, the only possible conclusion is that your God prefers the existence of evil to its nonexistence. It doesn’t matter what his justification is; if evil is allowed at all, it is because God is more inclined to use evil to do good than to simply do good. But like I said before, that’s all irrelevant, because evil is a label, not a thing. It’s an invention of human language. Suffering, on the other hand, is a real thing, and is directly contradictory to the idea of a God whose eye is on even the sparrow as it falls.

    Please, try to form your own conclusions. Don’t just feed us something someone else wrote.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    First, if an atheist asserts that evil exists, but God doesn’t, how do you know if it is evil? How do you know that there is injustice in the world if you don’t know that there is some ultimate standard of justice?

    Is God also an ultimate standard of redness? If not, how can you claim to know if anything is red?

    This argument is just patently silly. It’s quite simple to compare varying degrees of a quality without an absolute ultimate standard to judge them against.

  • Country Squire Atheist

    Frankly, I think all of us have heard enough of evangelical Christian “Facts for
    Faith,” who has exhibited true troll tactics here. Perhaps Hemant might discontinue this person’s comments which are
    not leading this discussion anywhere. I
    think I’ve read enough of F4F’s crap.

  • mikero

    How do you know that there is injustice in the world if you don’t know that there is some ultimate standard of justice?

    Are you saying that there has to be some “most moral action/being”, and if there isn’t such a thing to compare against, then every action is equally amoral?

    How do you know there are small numbers if there is no largest number to use as an ultimate standard of the magnitude of numbers?

    How do you know that your light switch is nearby, even though spacetime is unbounded and thus there is no “farthest point from you” in the universe to use as an ultimate standard of distance?

    Clearly one can discern differences in magnitude of numbers or distance even without a “maximum number” or “farthest thing”. Same with morality. There doesn’t have to be an absolutely perfect moral goal for me to say that raping someone does less harm that not raping them.

    Are you instead saying that there must be a universal method to be able to say “specific action A is more moral than specific action B” (not relative to any “maximum morality”)?

    If so, then by all means, please tell us the method and how to apply it. How do you apply the universal standard of morality to these standard moral dilemmas? What are the correct answers and how can I know they are the One True Answers and not just chosen arbitrarily?

    The fact is, there is no universal moral method that transcends human existence. We as productive societies dictate basic standards of moral judgment, informed by our evolved moral instincts and philosophy. These moral judgment methods are (and must be) subject to discussion and debate, but the ones that seem to work best are those that focus on reducing harm/suffering and increasing happiness.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    *cough*

    There doesn’t have to be an absolutely perfect moral goal for me to say that raping someone does [more] harm than not raping them.

    FTFY.

  • Cecilia

    Regarding “Facts for Faith” having read his/her postings and the responses thereto, I conclude that the only valid response to “Facts for Faith” and others who “argue” via assertions is to shift the burden of proof. When “FFFs” assert “X”, the response should be “Why?”, when they assert “Z”, the response should be “please explain,” when they assert “Y”, the response should be “based on what evidence?”, etc, etc. Until they offer more than mere assertions, they do not deserve answers, only questions, IMO.

    As for Epstein’s book, I just started reading it last night and I haven’t gotten to the part where he claims to speak for all atheists….. Anyway, there are those of us who do want community and who also believe that religious communities should not own “social justice.” Epstein speaks for these non-believers.

    There are plenty of non-believers who are not into “social justice” and not into community(I think of right wing, Ayn Rand-y types) and are perhaps offended by the liberalness of it all. Non-belief is not a “one size fits all” thing. So, if you are not into building community you do not have to…

    I can also see how some of what Epstein proposes, might be a bit scary for people who have escaped from and/or been damaged by oppressive religious communities. But it really is not, Epstein is simply about recognizing that humans are, by nature and necessity, social animals. For centuries our social nature was expressed and regulated through religious communities, even religious states. Many of us (and, indeed, increasingly more of us) have outgrown the need for communities based on religion but, given what we are, I doubt that we will ever outgrow the need for communities. (At least, I hope not, imagine a world of Ted Kacynskis!!) Epstein and other humanists just propose communities based on humanistic values.

  • mikero

    FTFY

    Well, color me embarrassed 😉

  • Country Squire Atheist

    Atheists can have community without having
    the trappings of church, UU style, that Epstein embraces. Our organization has
    quarterly socials/pot lucks and parties and they are well attended and enjoyed.

  • Tom

    I think “Steve” put it best. I find it telling no one challenged his post.

    Unfortunately people are being scared away from Greg’s book by the logic of “if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then…”

    Make your own opinion. Read the book. See what it has to say. Challenge yourself.

    I consider Greg to be a pluralist, not an accomodationist. Learn the distinction and see if it applies to him.

  • http://www.soulcrushed.com Brad

    “We as productive societies dictate basic standards of moral judgment, informed by our evolved moral instincts and philosophy.”

    That’s mere opinion, not a fact. If this world is merely the result of “survival of the fittest,” then any “evolved moral instincts” would have somehow have had to have sprung “ex nihilo” from a moral instinct where it was “best” to lie, kill and steal <- consult our modern animal kingdom for the basest and most prime examples.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I just realized that I never posted my review of Good Without God.

    Here’s what I had to say after I finished it in 2010:

    While I think it was a worthwhile read, I’m not sure who the intended audience is. One moment Epstein seems to be trying to appeal to religious moderates and liberals, and the next moment he’s talking to (and speaking for) fellow atheists. Overall, it was something of a mixed bag. He’s way too much of a touchy-feely, wishy-washy accommodationist for my personal taste; however, I think his book is likely to reach people who would never touch anything by Dawkins or Hitchens.

    Reflecting back one year later, I would add that this book might be a good choice for people who are on the fence, religious speaking, who are frightened of identifying as atheists, or who feel drawn to rituals and want to sit around holding hands and singing Kumbaya with religious believers. That works for some, but it’s not part of my life and is definitely outside my comfort zone. For confident, outspoken atheists, this book probably won’t have as much appeal. Plus, the author was somewhat irritating. I don’t want Epstein speaking for me, especially since he said a few really off-the-wall things. In particular, he claimed that prayer comes naturally to children, which is certainly not my experience. I’m a lifelong atheist, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as prayer when I was a small child.