Friday, September 10, 2010

The amoral essence of atheism

You can lead an atheist to logic, but on the evidence of this professor of philosophy, it's going to take him at least a decade to follow it:
In a word, this philosopher has long been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely, that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t.

How I arrived at this conclusion is the subject of a book I have written during this recent period (tentatively titled Bad Faith: A Personal Memoir on Atheism, Amorality, and Animals). The long and the short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality. I call the premise of this argument ‘hard atheism’ because it is analogous to a thesis in philosophy known as ‘hard determinism.’ The latter holds that if metaphysical determinism is true, then there is no such thing as free will. Thus, a ‘soft determinist’ believes that, even if your reading of this column right now has followed by causal necessity from the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago, you can still meaningfully be said to have freely chosen to read it. Analogously, a ‘soft atheist’ would hold that one could be an atheist and still believe in morality. And indeed, the whole crop of ‘New Atheists’ (see Issue 78) are softies of this kind. So was I, until I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.

Why do I now accept hard atheism? I was struck by salient parallels between religion and morality, especially that both avail themselves of imperatives or commands, which are intended to apply universally. In the case of religion, and most obviously theism, these commands emanate from a Commander; “and this all people call God,” as Aquinas might have put it. The problem with theism is of course the shaky grounds for believing in God. But the problem with morality, I now maintain, is that it is in even worse shape than religion in this regard; for if there were a God, His issuing commands would make some kind of sense. But if there is no God, as of course atheists assert, then what sense could be made of there being commands of this sort? In sum, while theists take the obvious existence of moral commands to be a kind of proof of the existence of a Commander, i.e., God, I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality.
Now that Marc "Moral Minds" Hauser has been exposed as a scientific fraud and Sam Harris has spiraled off into weird neuro-Buddhist utilitarian psychophilosophy, it is well past time for atheists to stop avoiding the rational consequences of their godless belief systems and admit what was always obvious to everyone from the start. As I have repeatedly explained to the sort of maleducated overestimator of his own intelligence that actually believes that there is a genuine dilemma to be found in Euthyphro, the essence of morality is, and has always been, God's Game, God's Rules. Therefore, no God = no Rules. It takes some serious education to sufficiently confuse an otherwise intelligent individual to the point that it takes him more than a decade to recognize this basic and patently obvious logic.

Hard Atheism isn't a bad name for the concept, but there is already a more accurate one. It's called Rational Atheism.

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