The Immorality of Claiming Morality.

An abhorrent tactic amongst religious apologists keep coming to my attention of late.

Coming under many names, including “God of the gaps” this tactic is to attempt to find an area of discourse upon which you, the mark, have little knowledge, opinion or conclusion. From this they try to claim “You have no answer, I have an answer, therefore my answer should be afforded credence despite my lack of any evidence”.

What makes this worse is that in an attempt to find the gaps the dishonest will attempt to create gaps where none exist. This is commonly done by elevating aspects of the human condition falsely in order to suggest that it requires explanation at some higher level than it actually does. Our appreciation of beauty for example.

Since I find this tactic so distasteful and immoral I will choose to focus on morality itself as the example which is often used.

Morality is often elevated in this fashion and it is declared that it requires some explanation and that the only such explanation is a god. Often the person in question will point to what he hopes is a universal moral in the hopes of deceiving you into thinking there is an objective moral standard where some things are _always_ wrong and therefore suggest an objective moral law giver.

Richard Dawkins is one of a list of evolutionary Biologists who attempt to show why certain moral traits of ours are mirrored in the animal kingdom. This is interesting, well researched and conclusive however I do feel it is not entirely applicable to us as we are just forming morals and then finding their parallel in the animal kingdom and suggesting therefore that the animals are acting morally.

No…. I find human morality very simple to explain. It is not some divine attribute existing outside ourselves. It is merely the extension of our desires for ourselves or as philosophers have often put it “Enlightened self interest”.

I love my family. I do not want them to be killed. Therefore I want to live in a society where people are not killed. Simple.

I care for children and the children of my siblings. Therefore I want them to be not molested or harmed. Therefore I want a society where Children are not raped and harmed. Simple.

Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza often openly admits he sees no merit in giving his seat to an old lady on a bus if there is no god. After all, he says openly and often, he hardly wants her seat in return next week does he?

Dinesh therefore openly admits himself to be amoral in this regard. Sometimes I wonder if, in cases where people are as morally devoid as this, that it would be better off if they DIDNT lose the faith ever. This is a question for another day.

However I say in response to him: I love the older members of my family. I hope that when they choose to use public transport that they will be presented with a seat to ease their pain and trouble. Therefore I want to live in a society where such actions are performed. Hence I perform it myself when I have the chance. I, with my own hands and my own actions, help lay the blocks of such a society.

In fact, although in a sense the premise of this moral system could be described as being selfish to its core, I struggle to find any moral the religious amongst us claim, that I cannot also form in this fashion. Since we, as humans, share a lot of our selfish desires, we have many areas where overlap occurs. Consensus is reached often on many subjects. The majority of us respect old people as above, want to protect children as above and are against violence as above. Not all people are, but most.

This almost universal consensus is what apologists such as D’Souza use in an attempt to elevate morality beyond its means. People who perform to this consensus are labelled “good”. People who do not are labelled “evil”. These labels are subjective human categorizations and no more. Where such morals have their parallel in the morals espoused in the bible “good” and “evil” are relabelled “good” and “sin” as if there were some distinction.

Good, evil and sin are not entities in and of themselves requiring explanation. They are not an indication of a divine moral standard. They are, above all, not evidence for the existence of a god figure.

When atheists and philosophers such as Daniel Dennett thank “goodness” or say “Be good for goodness sake” they are not referring to a separate entity. I openly invite everyone to be good for the sake of a good society. Help construct by your own actions and by your own example a society in which the actions you wish to see performed are in fact performed.

by Gavin McBride

For more on Dinesh D’Souza Christian Apologist and Militant Anti-Homosexual, we recommend his book “What’s So Great About Christianity”

Atheist Ireland

19 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Neil February 13, 2009

    Excellent, excellent article. Thanks for this.

  2. Avatar
    Bob February 18, 2009

    On this: “I love my family. I do not want them to be killed. Therefore I want to live in a society where people are not killed. Simple.”

    Is this really so simple? Why, on this view, would it be preferable to live in a world where “people are not killed” as opposed to a world merely where “people we love” are not killed? If the motivation is simply to live in a world where one’s loved ones will not be killed, the means to this end don’t seem to matter much. Perhaps, if I have the power, I could secure the safety of my family by oppressing others, or by taking resources from large numbers of strangers in order to provide more for my family.

  3. Avatar
    Gavin McBride February 19, 2009

    Yes I think it is that simple. You talk of “If I have power…” and so on. The fact is you do not have this power. It is merely speculation, but you just do not have it. The majority of us do not. Speculation is fun but not really of use.

    Even if you could implement this, there is always a bigger fish in the pond and you open yourself up to being similarly brutalised by someone better than you engaged in the same philosophy.

    The human psyche is very prone to no true Scotsmen fallacies. We envision a “where will it all lead” scenario when confronted with anything. By suggesting the step of protecting just ones family and not just protecting everyone you open yourself to this.

    Simpler is to say as above, if we construct a society where killing is not performed, is considered immoral and outlawed, we then remove the concern of ourselves or others we care about being killed. Democratically we come to the decision therefore that killing is wrong and we are all, for the most part, happy with the outcome of this.

    None of us want to be killed, none of us want stress and worry and unnecessary competition. What I propose above has that effect. What you propose however has the opposite.

  4. Avatar
    Bob February 19, 2009

    I apologise for the length of the response, but I couldn’t find a way to be more concise:

    On the contrary, speculation allows us to test ethical theories via thought experiments which might be highly improbable, but nonetheless allow us to test the limits of the theory in question. (For example, I will never be accosted by Nazis asking me whether I am harbouring Jews in my attic, but this does not mean that it’s not a problem that has to be addressed by a proponent of Kantian ethics. Similarly, though no “Utility Monster” exists, the thought experiment offered by Nozick still makes a case which must be answered by a Utilitarian.)

    If the only reason why I should not exploit others is because there is always a bigger fish in the pond, then this does not look a whole lot different from certain theistic ways of thinking whereby the only reason one does not do evil (for want of a better word) is because they fear the wrath of God (the biggest fish there is). I do not think it is enough merely to say that we ought not to oppress others because it just wouldn’t be practical. As you say, the majority of us will never be able to exercise such power, but what of the minority who could have, or have had such power?

    I’m not sure that the Scotsman fallacy applies here (perhaps you mean to speak of the Slippery Slope fallacy?). I was not suggesting that one endeavour merely to protect one’s own family at the expense of others, rather, I am suggesting that if the justification for protecting another is merely that we protect ourselves, there is no reason to condemn a powerful person who chooses to protect his family by oppressing others, if he can get away with it. My intuition is that we would want a stronger ethical theory which would mandate some sort of basic concern for the welfare all individuals, regardless of their instrumental value in terms of protecting our own loved ones.

    A further problem strikes me. Suppose I have no family or friends and intended to end my own life. Surely it would be better, morally speaking, for me to end my life by taking an overdose of pills at home on my bed, rather than while I am driving a bus full of people. Yet if the only reason not to kill people is to avoid some future disadvantage, then there is no moral reason for me not to die while taking out a lot of other people with me, if that happens to be what I feel like doing.

  5. Avatar
    Simonn March 22, 2009

    Thanks for posting these useful information. Keep them coming

  6. Avatar
    Pook October 06, 2009

    Bob, I think you’ve missed the subtlety of Gavin’s position.

    Our morals are personally held values and may or may not be shared by those around you. These values represent the way you want to be treated by other people. You promote the adopting of these values to those around you because it would be hypocritical (hence self-defeating) if you didn’t.

    Your scenario (the friendless bus driver) is superficially valid but but, in practical terms, fails because it does not acknowledge the inter-relatedness between you (the driver) and your passengers. Those passengers are, to the first order, 100% identical to you – they are your family.