I’ve read a couple of interesting articles over the last week or so, and both of them deal with atheism and values (as in the sense of morality). The first article was entitled “Famous atheists… reveal where they get their values from“. I found this absolutely fascinating: too often, atheists criticise religion without offering an alternative. As I’ve said before, atheism is not a replacement for religion – and so most of the atheists quoted in that article came out with humanism (which I’ve critiqued recently).
To my mind, one of the weakest points of atheism or humanism is the idea of values and morality: Bob may look at his fellow humans and decide that they are wonderful and that kindness and compassion are values he wants to live his life by. All well and good. On the other hand, John may look at his fellow humans, decide that they’re all worthless and reason that the best way to go about life is to lie, steal and cheat his way to the top. Which one is ‘right’? Well now, herein lies the problem. There is no ‘right’. As Dostoevsky wrote, “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.”
This problem is not simply an academic one, as the other post I’ve read demonstrates: “What sociopaths reveal to us about the existence of God“. The post is based on the video testimony of a former sociopath called David Wood. It highlights the problem atheism or humanism gets itself into when someone disagrees when it comes to morality: what do you do when someone dissents from morality as our culture tends to understand it? What do you do when someone takes atheism and concludes that we’re all a bunch of atoms, and that you might as well have a bit of fun while you’re on this earth – fun which includes killing other people?
If you read the article and scroll past the video, you’ll see three arguments presented by different people (Elton Trueblood, Immanuel Kant and C.S. Lewis) about the existence of morality. They argue that morality has to exist in an objective sense, otherwise – essentially – life as we know it would not make sense.
I think most people would say what David Wood thought was wrong – but is that a logical conclusion for those who believe there is no better standard to appeal to, i.e. that there is no objective morality? I think you could argue (to my mind, correctly) that he was simply being a consistent atheist. I’m curious to know if there was an atheist or humanist argument which could have changed his mind. I suspect not.