Friday, December 10, 2004

Secular Morality

Theists spend a lot of time playing the Argument from Adverse Consequences, that is, they argue something must be true because they don't like the consequences if it's not. I mentioned this argument in an earlier post but only just learned in the past couple days of its name. An example of this argument would be: If I am mortal, I will die. Death is bad. Therefore, I must be immortal. This argument is obviously nothing more than wishful thinking, but theists use it for all kinds of stuff: If there is no God, then I won't go anywhere when I die, so there must be a God. If there is no God, life has no meaning, so there must be a God. If there is no God, then evildoers will never be punished, so there must be a God. If the true God is not the god I have chosen, I may end up in Hell, so God must be the god I have chosen.

One of the most overplayed of the theists' arguments from adverse consequences is: If there is no God, there is no absolute morality and you can't say anything is wrong, therefore God exists. There are all kinds of problems with this argument aside from the argument from adverse consequences. It begs the question of whether "absolute" morality is necessary for a functioning moral system. It begs the question of whether morality is absolute even if there were a God and even if it were the God the theists is positing. It begs the question of whether morality is absolute in a theistic worldview given that there are many god(s) in the world with varying moral commandments. I have dealt with all this in an earlier post, I believe.

But, I realized today that this is another argument I should never get in. After all, the theist is the one making a claim: There is a God and it is the God I have chosen. Until the theist presents a sound rational argument or convincing evidence for his or her extraordinary claim, we should not believe that claim. Theists have thus far failed to do so.

As such, my reply to questions of how there can be morality without God will, from now on, be: There can and there is. Morality exists. I have no rational cause to think God exists. Therefore, morality exists without God. End of discussion.

Nontheists spend a lot of time trying to work out rational, coherent, and emotionally engaging systems of morality that do not depend on any kind of god or god(s), in order to prove the theist's argument from adverse consequences wrong. There's nothing wrong with trying to figure out how secular morality works, but we should stop using it to answer theist's arguments, and moreover, we should stop "proposing" systems that "could" work without God and instead examine how our system does work without God. Especially since rational arguments for morality are not nearly as compelling as "God will roast you in fire for all of time if you're bad" and tend not to really convince theists, since no human consequence of moral violations can ever match the whoop-ass God can, according to his followers, mete out.


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