Yesterday we left off exploring two important questions that Atheists must answer in a universe composed of nothing but matter:
– When referring to the ‘rights’ of others, where do these rights come from in a world of cellular masses?
– When talking about right and wrong, who defines the meaning of these terms?
Let’s bring another Atheist voice (cheer?) into the discussion. Sam Harris (remember his little book) makes repeated use of moral language throughout his Letter to a Christian Nation. He describes things as good and evil. God especially falls under his moral evaluation as he considers the horrors of the world—disasters, child rape, murder, various evils—and asks why, if there is a God who is presumably good, these evils exist in the world. The trouble that Harris runs into is that, in order to evaluate anything as bad/evil one must have an objectively ‘good’ exemplar. Without that good that all can agree on, who has the authority to define good and bad? Harris? Pol Pot? Stalin? Doug Henning?
This is the main problem that the Atheist runs into when proclaiming their morality and even, superior morality. In order to make such a proclamation, the Atheist must borrow from an objective moral framework in order to make a judgment. Without that framework or its admitted existence, the atheist must defer to his or her feelings to make the call. Bertrand Russell admitted as much,
In a debate with a Jesuit priest, Russell had made a failed attempt to explain the source of his ‘objective’ morality. When the priest asked him how he differentiated between good and bad, Russell answered, “I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow…I can see they are different.”
The priest noted “You distinguish between blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty.”
“By my feelings,” Russell replied.
Of course, the follow up question is obvious (but was not asked in order to save face for Russell.) The priest pointed out the corner into which Russell had backed himself by posing this dilemma. “Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors; in other cultures they eat them. Do you have a personal preference, and if so, what is it?”
At least Russell is more honest about his agnosticism and the ambiguity of his own views on ethical values than is Mr. Harris. Sam enjoys a morality developed in his own mind but he never answers the question, from where does his intuition as to what is right and wrong come? The Atheist never provides an adequate explanation for how an intuition toward morality can develop from nothing but matter and chemistry.
So, the question we are left with today is, can morality exist apart from a Moral Lawgiver? Discuss amongst yourselves until next time.
Image by Mindsay Mohan