Atheism and Morals

If  you missed the first blog about morals and God you can click here and read it if you want to gain an understanding of morals from a Biblical view-point.  In my second blog about God, Morals, and Atheism I want to talk about the way that atheism views morals.    I want to be careful to describe their view of morals correctly because then I want to test it with some questions. After reading books by atheists and talking with them this is what I have found in general about what they believe about morals.

Since most atheists ascribe to Darwin’s theory of evolution, it would not surprise you to find that they believe morals have evolved as well.   They use the example of animals that have a basic conscience that can show fear and shame with their actions.  One website explains “Morals are, basically, the rules by which our social groups function. They ensure that things are reasonably fair and that relationships run reasonably smoothly. Social groups simply wouldn’t survive without rules, so the evolution of the ability to create and follow rules should be expected.”   Atheists also claim that morals have evolved over time and this proves that moral evolution is true.  They claim that we no longer follow the morals of the Bible like slavery, treatment of women, and war.

From here there is a divide about how some atheists see the individual evolution of morals.  Some insist that morals as an individual trump the morals of a society.  Others see it the opposite way around that in order to survive as an individual, humans somehow find it in their best interest to work together as a society to survive.  In the late 19th Century most atheists seem to take the individual viewpoint of morals.  Atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarks “Equality is lie concocted by inferior people who arrange themselves in herds to overpower those who are naturally superior to them.  The morality of ‘equal rights’ is herd morality and because it opposes the cultivation of superior individuals, it leads to the corruption of the human species.”   New atheists like Sam Harris who are seeking to find a naturalistic view of morals, look more toward the influence of the culture as to defining the morals of an individual.  In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins uses 4 main ideas that can create a cultural view of morality.  They are altruism, kinship, reputation, and fear of punishment/desire for reward.  But both Dawkins and Harris admit that natural will give little help in cultural morals because the individual will fight against other individuals.  There seems to be an evolution of the way things are explained as it comes to morals.  Others might call this a change of mind.

What about the claims of atheists?  Are we really not that much different from all the other animals?  Have morals changed from the times of the Bible?  How do morals evolve?  All that being said, these are some questions that I believe need to be answered and I have difficulties that I have found with the idea of evolutionary morality.  Here are a few thoughts.

1. Are humans really not that much different from the animals?  Darwinism would have you think not, but one look around at the world tells the real story.  Biologist have been experimenting with primates for years, trying to teach them sign language, teach them behaviors, and more, but the best that can be observed is a mimicking of human behavior for a short time for a reward.  Animals are still called the savage beasts for a reason.

2. What about the claim that morals have changed over time?  The idea that we are no longer the selfish individuals of the past or of the Bible?  One look at the last century will tell you that indeed we are not becoming more morally evolve.  The 20th century was the bloodiest centuries of in history.  David Berlinski, in his book The Devils Delusion, outlines all the wars that have been fought and the number of deaths that been as result.  The numbers are over 160 million total.  The Biblical view of slavery is a bit of a straw man argument and was never anything like the African slave trade of the recent century. There is still mistreat meant of women today, perhaps as much as there was in history.  Take a look at the issue of sex-preference abortions that take place in China and India because families don’t want a female child they will terminate the pregnancy in order to try to have a boy. Also just  take a listen to a few Hip Hop songs and you will understand what some people still think of women.  Since the rise of atheists in the 19th century, as far as evolving morals, I see things actually getting worse, not better.

3. How do morals evolve?  This is perhaps the biggest leap concern I have with evolutionary morality.  How does a cell produce thought, a conscience, or morals?  Naturalists who argue for evolution want to say the brain is so highly developed, which it is, and it gets to the point where conscience is born.  This is not the traditional view of the human mind and body that are separate and that the human soul exists separate of the body.   Atheists want to argue that some how, the matter created the mind.  They try to explain it with the complexity of the brain and the long time that has passed to allow slow changes to create a mind.  But, no matter how complex something is, or how much time might pass, cells don’t grow feelings, atoms don’t feel things.  Science has no explanation for this as of yet, perhaps they might in the future, but I doubt it.   There is more to add to the brain/mind discussion but I will save those for another post.

4. There is also another area in morals that has a wide range of thoughts by atheists.  It is the question, Are morals objective?  From a Biblical perspective the answer is an easy, yes.  The Christian worldview has no issues with objective morals or right and wrong because they come from a transcendent God who sent the standard.  On the atheist side of the coin there is wide debate between atheists.  If you ask an atheist whether Rape or child abuse, which is a current topic in the news with Penn State, is objective wrong, they will most likely say yes, it is universally observed as wrong.  They may however be hesitant to say yes because they cannot explain where this universal moral comes from.

I will address some other thoughts related to morals in the near future.  As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.

4 Responses to Atheism and Morals

  1. Mark says:

    Hi, I have a question.

    Female genital mutilation is a tribal custom practiced in Ethiopia and Kenya by Muslims and christians, with circumcised mothers insisting on circumcised daughters. The bible is silent on the practice.

    My question is: Is FGM objectively moral? If not, then why?

    • johnweldon says:

      Hi Mark,
      I was not aware of Christians that took part in this custom. I am aware that Muslims do this, but I can’t speak to their scriptural reasons for doing so. I will address the Biblical side of things, since that is what I know and understand.

      The sign of the covenant God made with Abraham was that every Hebrew male should be circumcised after birth on the 8th day. (Genesis 17:10-12) No where in the Bible does it require the female to be circumcised. After Christ came, the New covenant with Jesus sacrifice did away with the O.T. circumcision. You see Paul making a case for this in several places (Romans 2, Romans 3:1, 1 Corinthians 7:19, and Galatians 6:10-012) just to give you a few places to look at.

      Many Christians today are circumcised not because of the OT command, but rather for personal preference. Some may continue the practice because they are ignorant of the New Covenant and not understand that they do not need to do it. Someone who is not a Jew, would not even have to think about the issue, because God’s command was only to the Jews (Abraham and His descendants)

      As for the Bible being silent on FGM, I think those Christians who practice it should look at why FGM is done. Since it is not commanded by God, is it done for cleanliness, identification with a group, torture, or something else? I view something objectively right or wrong based on the scriptures, and if the Bible is silent on a issue, then I examine the reasons for making that decision based on greater Biblical principals. For example, The Bible does not talk about smoking cigarettes, so what should my actions be? Well I know that smoking is not healthy for the body, it costs extra money to buy them, that I might use else where in my budget, and it makes my teeth yellow. On the other hand smoke might relax me as well. After weighing the pros and cons I therefore would make a judgment based on the general scriptural principals. For example, because my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and because I know that God values all human life, I should make a decision not to smoke because that goes against those Biblical issues.

      As for it being Objective Moral, I think you are missing a word in that question. Are you asking if FGM is Objectively Morally RIGHT or WRONG?

      Lastly, it could be that the Christians who are participating in this practice are swayed by the influence of others around them. The Apostle Paul addressed a similar issue with the Jews in the New Testament who were trying to have the Gentile Christians of the first century to be circumcised, as they were. I see this idea in America where I live. People tend to view something as right or wrong based on their view of others around them. For example before abortion was legalized by the Roe v. Wade decision many people thought it was wrong, but since years have passed, what has become law, more easily becomes accepted as right.

      I hope I answered your question, if not let me know.

    • Female circumcised is not mandatory to Muslim. It only recommended to practice. So if the family want to do or not it depend on them.

      What have been show in media is totally wrong practice. In FGM it only a very thin layer of skin. People like to think like male circumcise, but it actually totally wrong. I also ask my wife who is medical doctor regarding this this, but she said to me “Don’t listen to media, read the medical book how doctor do it.”

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