Denyse O’Leary and Immoral Atheists

Denyse O’Leary and Immoral Atheists August 22, 2011

The always ridiculous Denyse O’Leary writes at Uncommon Descent about immoral atheists.

Recently, there’s been some noise abroad that atheists are widely distusted, immoral, and foolish. As a generality, it puzzles me. If a guy wouldn’t kick the cat before he decided he was an atheist, why would he start afterward? Antony “There IS a God” Flew was an atheist for most of his career and – from the accounts I’ve heard – a highly moral man. He didn’t suddenly become moral when he admitted to Gerald Schroeder that design in life forms and the universe show that there is a God.

Then it occurred to me: It’s not so much that atheists are immoral, but that immoral people are often atheists. That is, the guy who kicks cats anyway, and fears divine retribution, may resolve his problem by deciding that there is no God and therefore no divine retribution.

Then he goes back to kicking cats in peace. Other atheists don’t like him but what can they do?

This is what passes for serious thinking over at Dembski’s Home for Wayward Sycophants. Yes, there are no doubt many immoral people who are atheists. Why this fact seems relevant to her is a bit baffling, but then most everything that escapes her mind is baffling. And it doesn’t get any better when she revisits the subject later.

It’s about determining a moral ground for doing so. Jurisdictions in the great white north are as well able as any other to enact laws against cruelty to animals, and even to enforce them. They could enact strange and useless laws that afflict both man and cat, helping neither party, but providing a living for bureaucrats. And, whatever the merits of their cause, people can risk taking the law into their own hands. The dilemma is, how to construct a rational and moral basis for saying that the Atheist League’s members, many of whom are active in animal welfare, are right and the cat kicker is wrong.

It gets more complex. Assume that the population’s makeup gradually changes. The town comes to be dominated by members of an ignorant and violent sect that believes that dogs and cats are unclean – and that it is a virtue to punish them accordingly. What sustains the atheist in the face of persecution for his animal welfare work – other than the conviction that sect members are ignorant and violent? However well founded, such a conviction is not likely to sustain a person long in the face of persecution.

This is the same old silly Christian claim that I refer to as the Simon Says argument. If you can’t say “God says” before every statement you make, according to this argument, then nothing you say has any rational basis at all. But this argument assumes the thing it is intended to prove, which is the existence of a god that gives us moral commands. If there is no such god then all of the “God says” statements in the world won’t make him come alive.

And of course, if there was an ignorant and violent group that wanted to punish dogs and cats for being unclean it is a virtual certainty that they would so so on the basis of “God says.” After all, that is what some sects of Islam do with dogs. It’s also what some Christian sects have done with cats at various times, believing them to be satanic and involved in witchcraft. It is religion which tends to turn such irrational actions into moral behaviors, not atheism.

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