Friday, July 13, 2007

So disappointing...

Michael Gerson wrote a very thoughtful, but misguided piece on atheism in today's Post:

Proving God's existence in 750 words or fewer would daunt even Thomas Aquinas. And I suspect that a certain kind of skeptic would remain skeptical even after a squadron of angels landed on his front lawn. So I merely want to pose a question: If the atheists are right, what would be the effect on human morality?

If God were dethroned as the arbiter of moral truth, it would not, of course, mean that everyone joins the Crips or reports to the Playboy mansion. On evidence found in every culture, human beings can be good without God. And Hitchens is himself part of the proof. I know him to be intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind, when not ruthlessly flaying opponents for taking minor exception to his arguments. There is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction. This instinct may result from evolutionary biology, early childhood socialization or the chemistry of the brain, but human nature is somehow constructed for sympathy and cooperative purpose.

But there is a problem. Human nature, in other circumstances, is also clearly constructed for cruel exploitation, uncontrollable rage, icy selfishness and a range of other less desirable traits.


Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests -- a fear of bad consequences -- will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

So as long as you throw out consequentialism, atheism looks flimsy? If you threw out the idea of the supernatural theism would look pretty flimsy as well. When will atheists and theists realize that they waging a metaphysical war that neither side can win. Theists can't disprove atheists and atheists can't disprove theists. Both sides just need to realize that they are at their best when they carry out their unending war in the minds of men and at their worst when such battles are fought in the halls of government.

1 comment:

Adam B. Ricketson said...

"Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not."

All I have to say to this criticism is: "welcome to reality." Theists have no objective way of judging conduct either (as evidenced by the great variation in theistic moral systems)--they just fool themselves into thinking that they are being objective when in fact they are only expressing their own desires.

That's a recipe for unreasonable behavior.