Friday, June 12, 2015

On Being Consistent

We live in an age in which people think we can dispense with belief in God and everything will go on as before, or even better than before. Very few who embrace atheistic naturalism give serious thought to what it entails and very few of those who do give it thought find that they can live consistently with those entailments. From time to time, however, one comes across an atheist who is clear-eyed and honest about what it is he or she is accepting.

One such is a fellow who posted a comment a year or so ago at a blog called The author of the blog, J. Warner Wallace, by way of introducing the commenter's submission, said this:
Several weeks ago, a gentleman (we’ll call him “John”) replied to a blog I posted at As a skeptical non-believer, John wasn’t responding to what I had posted, but to fellow atheists who had been interacting with Christians in the comment section. John’s post was controversial but honest. In fact, he clearly delineated the problem of atheistic moral grounding. While the comments on the blog aren’t typically all that courteous, John complained they were too courteous, especially given the atheistic worldview of the people who were posting. Here’s what John had to say:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me.

Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.

I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”
Several readers questioned whether John really was an atheist or just a theist posing as an atheist, so Wallace clarified:
Since posting this comment, I’ve been able to peek at John’s life in a very limited way, and I’ve had a brief interaction with him. He appears to be a creative, responsible, loving husband and father....When John first posted his comment many of the other atheists who post at CrossExamined were infuriated. Some denied John’s identity as a skeptic and accused him of being a disguised Christian. But in my interaction with John, he told me he was weary of hearing fellow atheists mock their opponents for hypocrisy and ignorance, while pretending they had a definitive answer to the great questions of life. He simply wanted his fellow atheists to be consistent. As it turns out, theism provides the consistent moral foundation missing from John’s atheistic worldview.
"John" is, of course, correct. Given atheism there's nothing morally wrong with doing any of the things he mentions because on atheism there are no objective moral duties, nor can there be. This outrages some atheists who think such a claim is tantamount to accusing atheists of being wicked or immoral, but this misses the point. A person can be kind and generous, and presumably many atheists are, but the point is that there's nothing in atheism that would make cruelty and selfishness wrong. On atheism no one has an objective duty or obligation to be kind rather than cruel. As "John" suggests above, the only constraint on anyone's desires is what that person can get away with. "John" is saying that a man who has the power to act with impunity is not violating any moral law by torturing children or shooting up a movie theater. For the man without God, might makes right.

The famous French writer Voltaire expressed it this way. He said, "I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants and even my wife to believe in God, because it means I shall be cheated, robbed, and cuckolded less often."

This is the theme I try to amplify in my novel In the Absence of God and also in my forthcoming novel Bridging the Abyss (about which more in a couple of weeks). Some have asked, essentially, so what? What's my point? The point is that very few people can live with the logical implications of atheism. They want to live as if the Christian worldview were correct while rejecting the Foundation for that worldview. To be consistent an atheist must either be a complete nihilist or, like "John," one must live by one's own predilections, recognizing that it's a purely subjective choice and that it's no better or worse, morally speaking, than any other choice. Moreover, one must forfeit the "right" to make any moral judgments of anyone else's behavior regardless how cruel or revolting it may be. Moral judgments imply an objective moral standard and atheism rules that out. The atheist who makes moral judgments of others, who condemns child abuse, racism, exploitation of the environment, or opposition to gay marriage, is living as if God exists while denying that he does.