Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bleak Conclusion

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent offers a succinct discussion on the topic of the possibility ethics without God. I've edited his argument slightly:

In an earlier post I lamented the apparent extinction of what I called "Nietzsche atheists," by which I meant atheists with the courage and honesty to accept the bleak conclusions logically compelled by their premises. Some of our atheist friends seemed to not know what bleak conclusions I was referring to. Here is a comment that sums it up nicely. This post is adapted from a comment to that earlier post.

Make two assumptions:

(1) That atheistic naturalism is true.

(2) One can't infer an "ought" from an "is" [i.e. because things are a certain way doesn't mean that they ought to be that way].

Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.

Given our second assumption, there is nothing in the natural world from which we can infer an "ought." And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there's nothing in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action.

Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it's not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. This ..... [all simply conforms] to standard principles and rules of logic and we've started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded.

And yet we reach the [following] absurd conclusion:

...therefore, for any action you care to pick, it's permissible to perform that action.

If you'd like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan "if atheism is true, all things are permitted." For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don't like this consequence of their worldview, but they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

So here's the predicament that the atheist finds him or herself in:

If there is no God then there are no morally impermissible acts. But most atheists want to argue that there are morally impermissible acts, thus they are driven to the conclusion by modus tollens that there is a God.

To avoid this conclusion they must either agree that there are no morally impermissible acts and stop irritating the rest of us by indulging their silly penchant for passing baseless moral judgments or they need to show how, in the absence of a transcendent moral authority, there can still be something which is morally impermissible.

Unfortunately for atheists' self-image as paragons of rationality, few of them are willing to do the first and none of them is able to do the second.


Coming Soon to a Community Near You

So you say you want government to take over your health care? The maddening inefficiencies and inadequacies of government health care systems in Europe have been widely publicized, but it's good for us to periodically be reminded of what we're buying into if we go along with proposals to nationalize medical care in this country. Consider, then, this story from the UK Daily Mail Online:

A three-year-old girl waiting for vital heart surgery has had her operation cancelled three times in as many weeks because of a shortage of hospital beds.

Ella Cotterell was due to have an operation to widen her aorta artery in her heart on Monday at Bristol Children's Hospital, but her surgery was cancelled 48 hours before because all 15 beds in the intensive care unit were full.

Ella, of Bradley Stoke, Bristol, had open heart surgery when she was just nine days old and suffered a stroke at 18 months.

Her parents Ian Cotterell, 44, and Rachel Davis, 40, were told in October that she would need the operation within 12 to 18 months.

Her mother Rachel Davis said today she was devastated when the hospital told her the surgery would be cancelled because there were not enough beds. 'My husband and I were in tears,' she said.

Ms Davis, who works part time as an accident and emergency nurse at Bristol's Frenchay Hospital, called on the Government to plough more money into the NHS before a child died on the waiting list.

'This is a national problem, there are not enough resources in the NHS and it is about prioritising.

'Children who need routine grommet operations are seen quickly yet the children who need life-saving surgery are waiting because there are not enough intensive care beds and staff.

'It is a matter of time before a child dies on the waiting list and I don't want it to be Ella.

'If that does happen the Government will have blood on their hands.'

There've been reports that people who need MRIs in Europe must sometimes wait for months to have the procedure done because there aren't enough MRIs or technicians to meet the demand. This is typical in a government run system because, unlike a free market, government is not responsive to customer demand and in a nationalized system there's no profit incentive to be responsive. Take away profit and competition and what you get are too few beds and delays that could last months or years, yet government-run health care is what a lot of people are hoping to soon have in this country.