My Thoughts On ‘The Amazing New Atheists’ and Morality and Ethics

Hopefully soon, I’ll have an email debate between myself and fellow blogger, Lyle Duell, who recently wrote two scathing pieces against atheists, particularly the ‘New Atheists’. We’re still working out the ground rules for the debate, as well as the topic, but I’m very much looking forward to further discussions with Lyle. We will be publishing the results on our blogs.

In the meantime, he asked me to respond to one of his blog posts and I’ve chosen his most recent one, ‘The Amazing New Atheists‘.

He starts off with:

I am truly amazed at people that claim they are atheist and then spent a great deal of their time talking about or even arguing about transcendental concepts like love, justices and truth. Well, not so much about love, but a lot about truth and morality.  If there is no God, are these concept not just empty expressions?

Not sure why it amazes him, since we’re all human and it would make sense that we’d all be concerned with such topics, since they partially define what it means to be human.

I don’t know why without God such concepts would be empty expressions. I spend a great deal of my time thinking about ethics. What’s truly amazing to me is that people think they need this god in order to ponder these concepts, especially since holy books often carry with them all sorts of bigotry, superstition and violence. As a society, we’ve outgrown many of these concepts, such as sorcery, which can be easily found in the bible:

2 Chronicles 33:6, He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.

When I ponder a moral or ethical question, I do so using reason and rationality. True, some questions are harder than others.

For example, I recently wrote a post about whether we should allow people (even depressed ones) to commit suicide. There may not be a good (or perfect) answer to that question, but there are certainly wrong answers, such as just killing people if they’re suffering from a mental illness. Or judging people to have a mental illness as having demons inside them, such as you’d find in the bible:

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. – Matthew 8:16

Very few people would say killing anyone who had a mental illness or pronouncing that all such people were demon possessed would be a good answer to the dilemma of whether or not we should prevent people from committing suicide. We may not have the perfect answer, but we know there are a number of wrong answers.

However, as shown above, we could make the case for demon possession by using the bible.

When I was contemplating the ethics behind eating meat, I looked at it from as many angles as possible. For example:

  • Can animals suffer and feel pain (answer is yes)
  • I watched several documentaries on farming and raising livestock (animals are treated horrendously)
  • Can I supplement the nutritional value I get from meat using plant based products? (answer is yes)
  • Was I eating meat because it was socially acceptable or because I really needed to eat meat (answer being I don’t need to eat meat)
  • Statistics on how many animals were slaughtered per year and was it necessary (a lot of animals killed)

And so forth. I looked at the problem for some time before finally deciding to become a vegetarian. I didn’t consult an ancient book of superstition. I used reason and rationality to make the best decision for me. I saw no reason why I should be eating meat, and I realized I did it mostly because my culture reinforced the idea that eating meat was good. Even now I get made fun of for not eating meat, but because I took the time to explore the subject, it doesn’t bother me at all because I feel I made the best choice (for me) that I could. I’m comfortable with my choice and it boiled down to causing the least amount of harm or suffering. I feel a vegetarian lifestyle best serves that goal of causing the least amount of suffering.

I understand that morality and ethics isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean we should consult ancient books of nonsense to make those decisions. In every way, secular morality has outstripped biblical or religious morality.

He then says:

When we are talking about ultimate concepts we are talking about the very foundations of human culture and civilization. To take the idea of a deity or a cosmic order out of the equation would necessitate the complete remaking of everything, our language, our culture, values, civilization and in essences the very way we think about everything.

I don’t see the connection. Why would we have to remake everything just because we didn’t believe in a deity as a species?

I don’t believe in a deity and I can understand our language. I have values. Civilization suits me fine. You might have to remake how you think about things, but as I pointed out above, I’m not sure why that couldn’t be a good thing.

I’m looking at the word count and I will need to create a part 2. This post has already gotten rather lengthy.

If you’re reading this, what do you think about what Lyle has said? Or about what I’ve said?

As always, thank you for reading and comments are always welcome.

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40 Comments

  1. I find it intriguing that he accused you (in comments) of sounding angry. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t see that. On the other hand, he has a post that is a self-titled ‘Rant’ Against Atheism. His posts seem borderline hostile, and his comments are are curt and acerbic.

    Projecting?

      • To be perfectly honest, I loathe discussing morality with apologists for this very reason. Their position is nonsensical. None have ever researched primate behavioural studies, and when you point out that dozens upon dozens of these studies have revealed a complex sense of fair play in our more coarsely furred cousins, and that this capacity for empathy directly correlates to neurological processing power, they dismiss it with a hand-wave. Of all the subjects in which an apologist can practice willful ignorance this is the biggie.

        • Yes, it can feel a bit like banging your head against a wall but I think it has to be done. I really think the moral question is the last leg that religion has to stand on. It’s the one argument that I think religious people can convince others that they’re right. Morality and ethics is a complex question and one not easily understood, even by great thinkers. That makes it perfect for injecting doubt and god into the equation.

  2. Im looking forward to this. I suspect many christians have been so led to believe that god invented morality and all the trimmings that they cannot conceive of the idea that its as much a genetic thing, as well as an individual one.

    That’s an old trick, isnt it, get the other guy to defend a silly perception (why are you angry?) and the talk is suddenly side tracked while you explain that you’re not angry, etc etc and in two exchanges you ARE and he’s right. aha, he says.

    (getting out the lawn chair. popping the popcorn)

    • It is an old trick. It’s the old ‘I hit a nerve so I must be right!’ option. Of course, if you hit a nerve, it might be because the other person has a legitimate reason to be angry, upset etc.

      I’m also working on having a guest column (very excited about this) called ‘ask an atheist’ on a fairly popular Christian blog. I think that will be a lot of fun as well.

  3. Hey, you sneaky sod! How the hell did you get a “Free Pass’ to write on James’ blog.
    I asked but he didn’t even have the decency to tell me to chuff off! 🙂
    You better not moderate my comments when you write!

  4. I popped over and read the posts in question. The person is a basic parrot of anti-atheist thought. Deity arbitrarily grants morality, therefore atheist talking about morality [insert conclusion about deity, atheists, etc.]. Also note the general statements about how atheists always say whatever that is mistaken.

    You’re doing this person a kindness by engaging in a debate.

  5. I can’t exactly speak for Lyle, but I think what he means by saying that morality can’t exist outside of God is that morality is very subjective (and reaches many grey areas) if determined by humans, but I also agree with you that there are some things that cross into realms where things are certain. Is killing wrong? Yes. Is eating meat wrong? (there can be some level of debate on whether or not it is good, depending on the nature of the individual). He is saying that humans can not necessarily determine morality on some issues, because those issues are so subjective. I don’t necessarily fully agree with his argument, but I feel like there is some reason to be considered(which you can try to de-bunk in the 2nd part). I hope it gives you some insight into where he is coming from. Have a good day!

    • Thanks for reading, CB.

      “but I think what he means by saying that morality can’t exist outside of God is that morality is very subjective (and reaches many grey areas) if determined by humans”

      I don’t see grey areas as problematic. Wasn’t long ago we viewed slavery as ethical. Now we don’t.

      Why?

      It’s subjective and we can change our stance based on new data that arrives, which is why secular morality is better than biblical (or religious based) morality, in my opinion. It’s the very ability to change according to new data that makes it superior.

  6. I think that makes sense, but my understanding of the Bible (which is albeit limited) is that it provides a sense of morality that is all-good. If we loved our neighbour as ourselves, slavery wouldn’t have happened in the first place. The idea is that it doesn’t need modifications (except contextual ones for anyone who ever quotes leviticus), and can always be seen as truth.

    I agree that modifications could make things better, but why modify ethics if you can have definite all-perfect truth. I don’t know if my point will come across because I am not well-versed to any extent to religious debates, but I am interpreting based on the little knowledge I have of the Bible

    • “If we loved our neighbour as ourselves, slavery wouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

      That’s the thing though, CB. You can justify pretty much anything using the bible. Slavery was actually defended using the bible. Denying same-sex couples marriage rights was defended using the bible. Burning witches was defended using the bible.

      You have to cherry pick one verse in the bible to overrule another (awful) part in the bible. Sure, it’s easier to think we have a set of rules and no more need to think about it, but that isn’t the case. Religious institutions have continually changed their ethical stance on things.

  7. Pingback: New atheists and morality | Random thoughts

  8. I wrote my post before reading yours. I knew yours would be too good and that I couldn’t have written a response if I read yours first.
    I agree with what you say here.
    And I disagree with the college blogger for with god, everything is permitted; you win a war- kill your daughter, your child picks sticks on day of Sabbath- stone them, you want a wife- rape a girl and you are good to go among many others. Who would believe such crude things are better than what we have arrived at through reason?

  9. Pingback: My Thoughts On ‘The Amazing New Atheists’ Part 2 | Godless Cranium

  10. Exactly. People have to use extra-Biblical reasoning to define the alleged absolute morality of the Bible. Sure, you can say Jesus trumps the OT. Yet he never forbade slavery, and used it as an illustration in his teachings.

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