The Atheists Problem of Morality

Often Atheists use morality to argue that God cannot exist. Their argument is that there is evil that exists in the world and if God existed he would stop evil from happening. A more thorough explanation of the argument can be laid out like this,

  1. God is all powerful (omnipotent). 
  2. God is all good. 
  3. If God exists he would stop evil in the world because of one and two. 
  4. there is evil the world. 
  5. Therefore, God does not exist.

Despite the fact that there are ways a theist can work around this argument, for instance though God hasn’t done premise three it does not mean he will not in the future, the argument itself cannot be postulated from an atheist perspective in the first place.

The reason is that an atheist cannot claim a standard for morality under his worldview. C.S. Lewis explained his realization of this fact before he became a Christian this way:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? – C. S. Lewis

Lewis here is explaining that his argument against God, that he is unjust, is grounded in an idea of there being such a thing as unjust. Lewis realized that his problem was that he needed God I order to say something is unjust. 

Frank Tureck likes to say that the atheist must steal this argument from God. The reason being that the atheist must steal morality from God to prove God does not exist. 

This does not mean that the atheist is inherently an immoral person, that atheists are going to naturally be evil compared to those who believe in God, or even that they don’t know right and wrong. This simply points out that atheists have no place to ground their morality.

He may argue that morality evolved, much like he believes we evolved into the beings we are now. But if this was the case morality could have evolved some other way in which a son killing his mother was moral or someone torturing babies is morally right. If morality is a result of random chance then it could have ended up other ways.

He may argue that morality follows what is better for society. But this only says what morality is not where it came from or what it is founded on. Furthermore, if one disagrees with such a ‘standard’ the atheist has no reply. Why should one look after society rather than themselves and their offspring? What defines society? Should I follow my friends morality or my parents? If a Hitler type character arrises somehow proving scientifically that their race is superior to other races what reason can the atheist have for stoping them?

Again, I am not arguing that the atheist isn’t moral or doesn’t know right and wrong only that they have no ground for it. The Christian can ground morality in the fact that we are made in Gods image and that God is the standard of morality, so in one sense the problem of evil is more of a problem for the atheist than the theist. 

This doesn’t completely dispel the problem the atheist brings up. It is still a question that a theist must answer. But the question cannot be used by atheists to prove God does not exist because the atheist needs God to use the argument.

18 thoughts on “The Atheists Problem of Morality

  1. Pingback: The Problem of Evil: The Start of an Answer (Part 1) |

  2. Pingback: Atheism and The Purpose of Life |

  3. Bearded Disciple The Problem of Evil: The Start of an Answer (Part 1)
    https://beardeddisciple.com/2016/09/13/the-atheists-problem-of-morality/
    It is false that atheists “must” (your word) borrow from god in order to say that there is evil in the world. No, murders exist, and they don’t prove that god exists. (Rather, they prove that there is no perfect being). (You have been tricked by Frank Turek and the like who make this false assertion about stealing from god).
    Murders can exist apart from God. Murders don’t show that god exists.
    Yes, I am familiar with your next move. You assert that murders entail “objective morality”. Of course, few people define “objective”, so one can’t (yet) say that your assertion is true. In the sense needed, “god-given”, it is false that murders show that there is a god-given morality.
    The interviewer can object to the interviewee if the latter claims to speak perfect French, but then fails to do so. Likewise, the atheist can object to the theist who claims there is a perfect god, but then grants that the world has much evil that conflicts with our concept of a perfect god. Likewise, the citizen can object to the person who claims there is a perfect cop, but then grants that on his/her beat, the cop allowed 1000 murders to occur. One does not need god to exist to make these objections.
    Most theists seem to think that “evil” is more than just murder, harm, and a dislike of such things. They tend to say, “it is also Really, Objectively Evil!” In my experience, no theist ever says what that means, and thus it looks like it says nothing. (If you think it means something, please say what).
    You don’t need god to have a concept of evil: it can (and often does) refer to harm/suffering, etc. You only need god to have a concept of god preferring good, or god not preferring evil. Atheists aren’t talking about those when they refer to evil. They are usually talking about harm, suffering, etc.
    Given that there is so much suffering, the concept of a being that is perfect (and who would not permit so much suffering) is improbable. Hence, evil (so much suffering) makes a perfect being improbable, just as 1000 murders (in the district s/he works in full time), makes a perfect cop improbable.
    I agree: you don’t need to know everything to know some things. That doesn’t change anything I’ve said above.
    We are not here assuming god exists. If we did assume that, then if we find a murder, we should say, it is probably for the best, given that a perfect being would only allow perfection. Likewise, if we assumed there is a perfect cop (all knowing, etc), then when that cop shot 1000 innocent looking people , we would have to conclude that it was probably for the best, justified, etc. Of course we shouldn’t do that: if we see 1000 people shot by cop X, we should then say, well I guess s/he isn’t perfect. If we see a Holocaust, then we should say, there probably isn’t a perfect being/god. To say, “but if he is perfect, he would have his reasons” is true, but no reason to not conclude that it looks like he is not perfect. Again, if you reject this, I could take anything, and say that it is perfect, and then say, well, even though it looks imperfect, it is perfect, it would have its reasons to show that my perception of it being imperfect are incorrect. I could take Hitler and say, he is Perfect! You would say, but he killed all those people. I would say (a la your logic) but if he is perfect, and we are not, we can’t expect to understand his justifiable (perfect) reasons. No, instead we would say, kill all of those people makes it more probable that he is imperfect.
    I welcome your feedback.

    • I appreciate all your thoughts on these posts.
      Here is my feedback: You bring up murder, the Holocaust, Hitler as if to say all of things are objectively bad. But where did you get this idea? If God doesn’t exist all of these things are simply furthering the evolutionary process by killing off the weak. What makes those things objectively bad?

  4. I never said they are objectively bad. I’m not even sure what you mean by that phrase. I never made any claims about morality being related to evolution. Those are your ideas, not mine. Here’s what I know: people exist, Hitler existed, Hitler caused harm, I don’t prefer harm. I say “Hitler was evil” (basically) to refer to the harm he caused, and the fact that I don’t like it. You seem to be the one who says morality is more than this. Well, show that it is. That is, show that there is something more at all, or related to morality, that then proves that god exists.

      • Haha! Seems I lost track here. Your whole argument seems grounded in the view that harm is bad. In objective sense. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you here, as it seems I have in other points. Let me know. But if harm is something that is simply subjectively bad than you again have no ground for your morality. So perhaps my question would be what if someone simply disagreed harm was a bad thing? You would have to ground your objection to harm in something objective. What would that be?

      • My argument is grounded in the idea that harm exists. Nothing about the existence of harm proves god, or disproves any of my assertions, it seems. You should really define “objective” and “subjective” much more precisely, as the failure to do so will lead to lots of unnecessary confusion here. Harm exists. I don’t prefer harm. It doesn’t follow that I have no ground for my moral assertions. What you mean is, I don’t have a godly ground for them. But no one else does either, as god does not exist. If someone disagrees that murder does harm, they are factually wrong. If someone says they prefer to murder, and they do, then it is factually true that they do. So if I prefer the absence of harm, and they prefer the presence of harm, nothing about that proves god, only that people often have different preferences. You seem to insist that (or define) morality has something to do with god. On that definition, there is no morality. You seem to wrongly assume that if someone has a different preference than mine, that I have access to some absolute standard to prove that some preferences are “right” or “true”. My preference for avoiding poison might be better at keeping me alive, but it is not “better”, full stop. So our judgments are always relative to some standard, and the standards we know to exist are not god. So again, nothing here proves god. If you think I’m wrong, instead of asking so many questions (which is fine, but doesn’t move us closer to the truth in this case), prove that objective morality exists, and that it proves that god exists. Having had this conversation with dozens of people, it is very unlikely that you will do both of those things.

  5. Objective truths are unchanging in time, places or circumstances.

    Subjective truths are opinions, such as preferring chocolate ice cream over vanilla.

    “So our judgments are always relative to some standard, and the standards we know to exist are not god.”

    What is the standard then? When the Nazi says that killing Jews is good and you disagree what determines which is closer to the standard?’

  6. So you didn’t give any examples of objective truths. There are 2 good candidates though: scientific truths, and tautologies. The first is something like “cats exist”. That’s true, it isn’t just an opinion, it is well confirmed in our experience, but it isn’t necessarily true. The other candidate is something like A=A, which is always true, for all people, at all times. So there are objective truths, such as “murder is murder”, but nothing about such objective truths proves god. Subjective truths are still truths though: I might prefer chocolate, and I might never change that preference. Nothing about this is helpful, nor proves god. When I say “the movie is good” or “the movie is better”, there is usually some standard I have in mind when I say this. We usually mean something like “The movie has quality acting”, etc. That is, our judgments related to some standard, like quality acting. When the Nazi’s say “killing Jews is good” we need to know what “good” means for them. They might mean “killing Jews is hurtful”, which is true, or “killing Jews makes the moon bigger” which is false. You ask what happens if the Nazi and I disagree here? “What determines which (their view or mine) is closer to the standard (of scientific truth)? Science determines that, and in this case determines that the Nazi is mistaken. Or they might mean “I prefer to kill Jews”, which might be true of some of them. Science would also help show what people probably prefer.
    So I would disagree with their assertion if their assertion is false. To know if the assertion is false, we first need to know what is asserted. Once we do, there is usually a clear scientific answer to the matter. None of this has shown god to exist, or an objective standard which proves god.
    You might notice your posts are mostly questions, and not much evidence proving that there is an objective truth that also proves god.

    • So I would be proposing that there is a third category of truths, that being moral truths. For instance it is objectively true that it is wrong (isn’t what we should do) to kill innocent babies.

      When you say “When the Nazi’s say “killing Jews is good” we need to know what “good” means for them. They might mean “killing Jews is hurtful”, which is true, or “killing Jews makes the moon bigger” which is false.” I think your being intellectually dishonest here. I think you know very well what I mean but you’re trying to evade the problem. None-the-less I’ll try to lay it out more clearly.

      When the Nazi says it is good to kill Jews they mean ‘killing Jews is what we should do’. You of course disagree with this by saying “What determines which (their view or mine) is closer to the standard (of scientific truth)? Science determines that, and in this case determines that the Nazi is mistaken.” But science doesn’t say that. The nazi sees science promoting survival of the fittest and therefore if he can kill all of the Jews it makes him the fittest. The Nazi is then simply following the laws of science.

      Science says nothing about morality science deals with testing and seeing how things work. Morality is about how things should be or what should be done, this is a field of Philosophy not of science.

      You seem to think that science can determine all truths. You need to take a step back and figure out how you can justify that. If all truth is determined by science how can you come to the truth that ‘all truth can be discovered by science’? You can’t use science to prove that science can discover all truths. So therefore science can’t discover all truths.

      • So “it is wrong to kill innocent babies” is not true by definition ( a tautology), not true by experience, but true nonetheless. Great! You’ve told me what doesn’t make it true. Now you need to show what remains that does show that claim to be true. But before that, you need to explain what “wrong/shouldn’t do it” means (and when a thing has that property). I am pretty sure, again, that you can’t accomplish both of those tasks. I look forward to your attempt to do so though.
        If you know about the history of philosophy, you might know about empiricism (truths known by experience/science) and rationalism (Truths known by reason, such as A=A). It doesn’t look like there are other ways of knowing, nor ways that prove god, or your moral claim, but again, feel free to prove me wrong.
        No, I honestly am not trying to evade. I am not being intellectually dishonest. Make your case for the facts in question. I think this shows that you can’t make the case, and thus you are only left with something like, “isn’t it obvious to you that X is “wrong”, even though I can’t define “wrong”?. No, it isn’t obvious to me, honestly. So if it is obvious to you, you should be able to say a lot more about it, and make the case.
        Yes, The Nazi says murder is “good”/”what we should do”. That doesn’t mean I understand what constitutes either of those things. I do NOT understand what those mean here. The closest to understanding this is if you mean, “The Nazi says I prefer to murder, and thus I should murder/I have a reason to murder”. If that’s what you mean as well, I understand. Then I would point out, none of that proves god. But no, if you can’t/don’t unpack “should” in that way, I do NOT know what you mean by “good”/”should”.
        Again, my way is simpler in the following sense: If you mean “The Nazis say murder is good (efficient) at getting rid of your enemies, or taking over land”, that might be true. Here one might say, if your only goal in life is to take over land, you should murder (it will accomplish your goal, you have a reason to do this act, etc.) None of these meaningful senses of “good” and “should” prove god.
        It seem that you don’t want to accept ANY meaningful unpacking of “good” and “should”, but still want those terms to have meaning! If you think they have meaning, tell me what they are!
        Science doesn’t “promote” survival of the fittest. Science tells us what exists in reality. It doesn’t prescribe by itself. We value health (often). Science says poison will kill us. Thus if we value health (above all else, for example), we would be wise to (i.e., “should!”) not eat poison.
        The Nazi who values his own survival, and thus kills the Jews, is being wise about his values, if indeed killing Jews will satisfy that preference/value, and the person wants to satisfy that preference.
        Science says: we have these preferences. Science says: poison kills you. Reason says: if you want to live, drinking poison will thwart that. If you want to die, poison will do that. Again, at bottom are preferences and desires, and the use of science to describe reality, and a “decision” to act towards those desires or not. “Should” usually means something like “will satisfy those desires”. That’s why if you like Soccer we say “you should try out for the Soccer team”, but if you hate Soccer, we wouldn’t say that.

        I don’t know if science can determine all truths. For one, reason itself proves that A=A. But beyond conceptual truths, science seems to be the best (and perhaps only) way to determine empirical, contingent, worldly truths. I am open to other ways, but there seem to be none.
        Given that I don’t assert that “science can determine all truths”, your last challenge is not a challenge (since it asks “if all truth is determined by science…).
        If science can’t discover all truths, you still haven’t shown that anything else we know of can, or can discover some truths that science can’t, nor that any such alternate method proves god.

      • To put it simply, your reply claims there is a 3rd class of truths, but you offer no evidence for it. It looks like there are only truths of the first 2 types.

  7. I think it is true that torturing innocent babies for fun is usually unkind/does harm, etc, and the (empirical) facts show that is usually the case. If you are asking a different question, you need to be clearer. No, I do not think that some 3rd but unclear sense of “objective” exists and shows that TBFF is morally wrong (also undefined). if you think there is, explain those terms (3rd sense of objective, and “morally wrong”), and then show the claim above is thereby shown to be true.

    • And to follow up, those that wish to be kind, “ought to”/”should” do kind things, like not murder, give hugs, etc. It seems to me not true to say, out of nowhere, with no other context, everyone ought to be kind, regardless of anything else. If you don’t like pickles, you ought not eat them. If everyone prefers to be punched and to punch others, you ought to punch others. If you prefer kindness, you ought not punch others.
      If you prefer A more than anything else, and I prefer Not A more than anything else, there is no higher standard that shows, despite our preferences, we both “ought” to do this one particular thing, that one of these “oughts”/preferences is “correct” while the other not.

      • To use your thoughts here I think some of what I am saying is that the moral law would state that mankind ought to prefer to be kind. Perhaps that drives at my bottom line better here. In other words the reason we say one ought to do something isn’t simply because they should do what they do or don’t like (prefer) but that are things they should do whether they prefer them or not. If I preferred to torture babies you probably wouldn’t just say ‘well that’s your preference’ you would say that my preference is wrong or that it should be ignored in some way. Thus meaning there is an objective standard there that ignores my feelings or preferences toward the issue.

  8. It seems that you are ignoring/not responding to/not reading? Much of what I have said. (Probably just not responding to).
    Yes, “mankind ought to prefer to be kind”. Nothing seems to show this is true, nor is it clear what it means. (“ought”?) If one says, why should mankind be kind, there seems to be no answer that is universal and points to god. One might say, one should be kind if one wants to be thanked, loved, etc. But saying “one should be kind” period, seems like saying “food is better…” without finishing the sentence. Better than what? Likewise, when one says “X ought to do Y”, the sentence needs finishing: X ought to eat pickles, if one likes pickles!
    I think your brain is wired to think otherwise, but you haven’t shown that “X ought to do Y” (full stop) is true for anyone, let alone all people.
    You assert that there is something all people should do regardless of preferences. I am claiming that you have given no evidence for such a thing, and that I know of no evidence, and thus it appears that your assertion is not true/false.
    If you prefer to torture babies, I would indeed say, that’s your preference. And no, I would not say your preference is “wrong”, since that phrase seems to mean nothing here (except perhaps to say that your preference is not my preference). When you prefer vanilla and I prefer chocolate, it makes no sense to say, “your preference is wrong!”
    I never said one should ignore their preferences.
    No, there is no objective standard that proves god. There are empirical standards that show things like “if you prefer chocolate, you will make more friends in that town over there that has many people that also prefer chocolate… Hence you “ought” to move to that time, if you prefer to make more friends…”
    It seems you keep repeating the same thing without evidence: there is a known objective standard that proves that one preference is “better” (?) than another (full stop), or that proves “you should be kind”, regardless of your preferences. Pause and ask yourself: have I given evidence for these assertions? And if so, what is it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s