Atheist tries to derive Ought from Is

and fails. All such attempts are doomed. You either wind up borrowing some Transcendental Ought from supernaturalism, or else you wind up (as this poor fellow does) frankly saying “Might Makes Right”. Hand-waving about the obvious differences in sundry human moral systems is just that: hand-waving. Talking about it like it’s a stunning new discovery that never occurred to dumb Christians is, well, much of a piece with the provincialism that unfortunately tends to reign in New Atheist circles.

Oh, and could we drop the straw man notion that atheism = immorality? Atheists are frequently intensely moralistic. Indeed, a constant theme of the New Atheists is that the Christian God is immoral, what with all that evil he allows. The first of the only two serious arguments for atheism that ever have or ever will exist is “Life sucks, so there’s no God.” That is a fundamentally moral argument and depends for its very existence on the claim that there are Transcendent Oughts which express, not merely the atheist’s personal preference for Cheddar over American cheese, but transcendent universal goods, rooted in the dignity of the human person and the goodness of creation that *nobody* can wave away with “Well, that’s true for you but not for me.” The whole trick of the thing is to say that even God himself has no right to violate these goods and that appeals to his omnipotence or omniscience are really simply appeal to Raw Power over Justice, Goodness and other Transcendant Universal Oughts. Where would atheism be without the delightfully self-congratulating moral vision of the Rebel Liberating Free Men from Divine Tyranny: as moralistic a vision as ever there was.

No, the problem has never been that atheists are immoral. The problem is that, at the end of the day, the atheist cannot *explain* the moral system he holds. He has to either crib from supernaturalism or he has to say, “Fine. It’s all might makes right!” Do the former and you acknowledge Richard Rorty’s point that “Anybody who thinks that there are well-grounded theoretical answers to [the question “Why not be cruel?” … is still, in his heart, a theologian or a metaphysician. He believes in an order beyond time and change which both determines the point of human existence and establishes a hierarchy of responsibilities.” Translation: an atheist moralist is not so much immoral as a thief: he’s cribbing from the supernaturalist moral tradition and is either unaware of it or in denial about it.

The alternative is to say “Might makes right” or “Morality is an evolutionary imperative” (which we ought, of course, to obey, though nobody explains why this artefact of evolution alone is something we are bound by a transcendent Ought to obey). You can say Might Makes Right, of course (though I doubt anybody will much enjoy a civilization that really pursues that as an ideal as distinct from laboring against it as permanent feature of fallen man’s thinking.) However, if you do, could you kindly shut up about the whole Defying God’s Omnipotent Tyranny in the Name of Justice schtick? You’ve just said Might Makes Right dude, so Omnipotence wins. (Not that Catholics think this a sane argument for God’s goodness–that’s more a Calvinist thing). But for sheer incoherence few things beat the odd combination of atheist rhetoric about the Glory of Freedom with atheistic attempts to say Might Makes Right.
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  • Alejandro

    Actually, humans are born natural altruists, alot of our morality comes from nature and evolution itself. Killing for no good reason has always been seen as bad. And it has been found that many animals have altruistic tendencies,, so you can say that our morality is inherent and that’s where atheists draw it.

    • Godfrey

      If that were true that it is innate even in animals then why don’t I see other Zebras or Gazelles distract a Lioness hunting for food in order to save the slower ones. Why don’t I see birds or monkeys saving their “brethren” in forest fires? Sorry but the seeming “altruism in animals” is nothing more than an instinct to protect one’s family or self for evolutionary self-preservation and nothing more.