I’m not sure what they don’t see

Arguing with believers about the existence of gods per se is futile in the extreme; simply pointing out the lack of evidence for intercessionary-style deities and the genuinely stunning evidence one can marshal against the idea are not sufficient, since, philosophically at least, it’s impossible to definitively establish the universal absence of gods, or of anything.
But I remain perplexed by the widespread and deeply entrenched inability of theists to grasp a very basic concept: People can behave benevolently simply because it is, intuitively, the right thing to do. A wealth of obvious and tangible payoffs are delivered to those of us who act compassionately, kindly, and honestly; in the same vein, an array of punishments can be avoided by not behaving violently, licentiously or rapaciously.


There is no need, no role in fact, for an external consciousness in this. All one needs to do is throw a clump of people together and watch what develops. And this “experiment” has been conducted countless times in human history, with highly predictable, replicable results.
Even those who ascribe their own moral behavior to gods are kidding themselves; they do what the godless do for the same essential reasons, but keep these at a comfortable distance. But this self-deception can be pernicious indeed.
Look at Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Count, if you like, the number of times someone answered the witless question, “If there’s no God, then what is morality anyway?” or a variant thereof. As if it weren’t bad enough that this is an inane query, those posing it have proven remarkably resistant to even acknowledging, much less accepting, the answers given, as though they are using some rogue version of IE or Firefox that renders certain text strings typed by atheists invisible.
You’ll have to forgive my awful typing over at Jared’s blog; I really need a new keyboard witha space bar that works, and even I can’t account for the phrase, “anutter no sequitur.” That sounds like something either Jar Jar Binks or Benicio Del Toro’s character in The Usual Suspects would say.

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  1. #1 by The Primate Diaries on July 29, 2007 - 1:05 am

    Ironically, the IDiots are now trying to claim that the New Yorker article about bonobos supports their position. I’ve written about here.

  2. #2 by coturnix on July 29, 2007 - 2:02 am

    The difference between internal and eternal foci (or loci) of moral authority….

  3. #3 by Science Avenger on July 29, 2007 - 2:13 am

    We have CS Lewis to thank for much of this. Many Christians are weaned on his writings, particularly MERE CHRISTIANITY, which is based almost entirely on the supposed existence of a moral law within each of us that must have been placed there by the Christian god. His inability to understand how cordial rules could arise from mere self-interest is just as blinkered as that of most of the moral-atheist deniers out there. It makes for very frustrating reading to watch him consistently get so near to understanding and bounce off in the opposite direction.

  4. #4 by Rob Knop on July 29, 2007 - 2:28 am

    But I remain perplexed by the widespread and deeply entrenched inability of theists to grasp a very basic concept: People can behave benevolently simply because it is, intuitively, the right thing to do
    Just a note, in case it’s not obvious : not all theists have trouble with this idea.

  5. #5 by Rob Knop on July 29, 2007 - 2:28 am

    But I remain perplexed by the widespread and deeply entrenched inability of theists to grasp a very basic concept: People can behave benevolently simply because it is, intuitively, the right thing to do
    Just a note, in case it’s not obvious : not all theists have trouble with this idea.

  6. #6 by Bob Ramsey on July 29, 2007 - 7:20 am

    The main problem with getting your morals from an external force, God in this case, is the problem of what happens when God changes His mind?
    The response I’ve always wanted to give to the question “If there’s no God, then what is morality anyway?” is twofold:
    If God told you to kill all the babies in a city, would you do it? [And then refer the person to the stories in the Bible where God did just that.]
    Do you mean the only thing keeping you from killing me right now is because God told you not to?

  7. #7 by sailor on July 29, 2007 - 8:38 am

    ” As I walk in faith and obedience to Christ working in my life, I see the glories of the eternal realm touch down into space-time. In the fight against the forces of evil and decay, I have been spiritually equipped, and those abilities have served me well.”
    Kevin, do you really expect to have a rational conversation with the the one who writes the above?

  8. #8 by writerdd on July 29, 2007 - 9:01 am

    > People can behave benevolently simply because it is, intuitively, the right thing to do.
    Why, Kevin, can’t you see that this is simply because that’s how god made us?

  9. #9 by writerdd on July 29, 2007 - 9:01 am

    > People can behave benevolently simply because it is, intuitively, the right thing to do.
    Why, Kevin, can’t you see that this is simply because that’s how god made us?

  10. #10 by Bill from Dover on July 29, 2007 - 11:43 am

    If we “borrow” our morals from theism, when do we give them back?

  11. #11 by pough on July 29, 2007 - 12:49 pm

    Pity the poor psychopaths who don’t seem to be receiving the Morality Beam from Heaven. Maybe the Morality Beam bounces off their chemical imbalance or genetic flaw and hits a nearby Chimpanzee, causing it to pass a stick for no perceived benefit. Or maybe the problem with psychopaths is their Morality Beam is off by a few feet; their Blessed Altruism remains just out of reach, but it altruifies others nearby.

  12. #12 by Kapitano on July 29, 2007 - 1:04 pm

    Reminds me of the ancient riddle: Do the gods love it because it’s good, or is it good because the gods love it.
    Or to put it another way, if god changed his mind about (say) abortion, would abortion thereby become a good thing at that moment? I’ve posed this question to many christians (and a few muslims) over the years, and those few who could grasp the notion of god changing his mind, answered in the affirmative.
    So, in their view, things are good or bad because god says they are at that moment. Which is of course nothing more than the parent or teacher saying “because I say so”, expanded to fill the universe.
    Having got them to admit that morality comes solely from the authority of god, I ask where god gets his authority from. The sophisticated ones answer that having the authority is part of what makes god god – it’s an integral part of his being, which is (I think) a category mistake.
    The rest answer that god’s authority comes from having the power to send disbelievers to hell – which doesn’t make him a bully because…wait for it…he’s only bullying us for our own good into doing what’s right!
    And who decideds what’s right? Why, god of course.

  13. #13 by Kapitano on July 29, 2007 - 1:04 pm

    Reminds me of the ancient riddle: Do the gods love it because it’s good, or is it good because the gods love it.
    Or to put it another way, if god changed his mind about (say) abortion, would abortion thereby become a good thing at that moment? I’ve posed this question to many christians (and a few muslims) over the years, and those few who could grasp the notion of god changing his mind, answered in the affirmative.
    So, in their view, things are good or bad because god says they are at that moment. Which is of course nothing more than the parent or teacher saying “because I say so”, expanded to fill the universe.
    Having got them to admit that morality comes solely from the authority of god, I ask where god gets his authority from. The sophisticated ones answer that having the authority is part of what makes god god – it’s an integral part of his being, which is (I think) a category mistake.
    The rest answer that god’s authority comes from having the power to send disbelievers to hell – which doesn’t make him a bully because…wait for it…he’s only bullying us for our own good into doing what’s right!
    And who decideds what’s right? Why, god of course.

  14. #14 by Gerry L on July 29, 2007 - 11:23 pm

    I’ve recently come to the conclusion that people who insist that without a belief in god you can’t have morals assume that everybody lives by the underlying rule “the only sin/crime is getting caught.” In other words, the only reason you try to do what’s right is that god is always watching. It seems that the extra bonus for being a believer is that if you do get caught you can repent and ask forgiveness. And the ones who consider themselves “saved” figure they have a permanent “get out of hell free” card.

  15. #15 by JimFiore on July 30, 2007 - 7:41 am

    So, in their view, things are good or bad because god says they are at that moment. Which is of course nothing more than the parent or teacher saying “because I say so”, expanded to fill the universe.

    Right. So is it any wonder why people who tend to line up for an authoritarian scheme to explain the universe might also find authoritarian governments and administrations attractive?

  16. #16 by Bill from Dover on July 30, 2007 - 2:35 pm

    Right. So is it any wonder why people who tend to line up for an authoritarian scheme to explain the universe might also find authoritarian governments and administrations attractive?

    At this moment, it looks as if about 28% of ’em do.

  17. #17 by Kevin Beck on July 30, 2007 - 4:28 pm

    “Just a note, in case it’s not obvious : not all theists have trouble with this idea.”
    Duly noted, Rob, and it’s a fact I thank God for every day. I tend to get sloppy with my adjectives, what with the need to constantly distinguish “theists” from “those theists.”

  18. #18 by Kevin Beck on July 30, 2007 - 4:28 pm

    “Just a note, in case it’s not obvious : not all theists have trouble with this idea.”
    Duly noted, Rob, and it’s a fact I thank God for every day. I tend to get sloppy with my adjectives, what with the need to constantly distinguish “theists” from “those theists.”

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