Sorry for the slow responses to your comments. I’ve been (foolishly) trying to reply to every point raised at once. To give myself a little time, I’m using this post to outline the major questions I’m going to try to address, and give you a very brief précis of the posts coming up on these topics. Sound off in the comments if I’ve left out a topic you’d like to get feedback on!
What is your definition of God?
What counts as a god? I say I am an atheist, meaning not only that I don’t believe in an omnipotent Judeo-Christian-like being, but also that I don’t believe in gods of the sort in Hinduism or Native American religions or ancient Egyptian mythology. I think the normal definition of a “god” would definitely include those things, but I don’t see what definition would include them but not also include oracles and wizards and other things of that sort. I therefore see basically any “entity that can perform miracles” as in fact a god.
I tend to define a god-entity less by the powers it has and more by my own relationship to it. A hurricane has power over me,. and its ways may be (to me) as inscrutable as the almighty, but my only duty to it is to get the hell out of its way. I think of a god as something that provides an order to my life, not another set of accidents to avoid or ameliorate. I know I’m defining a lot of things that traditionally got the label god out of the category (the Greek gods being perhaps the most glaring example) but I do believe these are qualitatively different gods, and should be treated separately.
How can you believe in objective morality if you only have imperfect access to it?
The problem with forms of objective-morality-prescribing systems is that they are subjective in practice. In other words, these values exist but must be somehow discerned and translated.
My answer to this is a little long (and frequently mocked by my friends, to the point of calling it my hypercube hypothesis) but I think it’s reasonable to say that we can approach the metaphysics of morality the same way we approach the metaphysics of mathematics: we ask questions, draw up hypotheticals and other analogies, and clumsily approach a workable representation of something we don’t have the language to express. [Yes, I will go into considerably more detail in the forthcoming post, but I’ll tell you upfront, I’m pretty sure C.S. Lewis agrees with me]
What if a religion is wrong, but its moral teachings are right?
Arkanabar T’verrick Ilarsadin said:
Once you’ve absorbed what the Church teaches is moral behavior, ask yourself: would the world be better, or worse, if everyone ascribed to that morality?
I certainly won’t deny that some churches have been ahead of the curve on many moral issues. And it’s an endless torment to me that all the good words for talking about morality (soul, sin, etc) are all extremely Christian language. [I do promise a post soon on why I think Original Sin is a useful concept even in atheistic conceptions of morality]. My primary fear of organized religion is that it has the power to make people abstract themselves from their moral sense. Ultimately, I think it’s bad for people to trust others too much on moral questions, to trust them to the point of ignoring their own visceral moral experiences. No matter whether the church is preaching truths today, you don’t want to get into the bad habit of contracting out your moral sense.
Hopefully, these brief answers will whet your appetite for the longer posts coming soon. Comments are appreciated, especially so I can refine the essays I’m writing, but please remember these are brief overviews of my positions. I promise to justify them better soon.