The famous Christian writer C.S. Lewis once wrote to his brother in a letter pertaining to which arguments were most convincing for his initial conversion to theism and eventually Christianity. Lewis spoke about how the cosmological arguments referring to the First Cause were not the arguments that swayed his intellect. Personally, it was Aquinas’ Five Ways that were the initial “aha” moment for me in regards to an intellectual approach to belief in God, but it was the Argument from Morality that made the most sense of the Christian God. The First Cause arguments are wonderfully compelling and fun to ponder, but they don’t necessarily say much about the nature of God, other than that of being Creator.
I won’t spend time writing a post about the Cosmological arguments for the existence of God, because, in reality they are beyond my expertise. Essentially, the universe has a beginning, the universe isn’t a sentient being with the power to create, and therefore the universe itself cannot be its own first cause. We tend to call the First Cause of existence, God. I don’t mean to over simplify it, but from a common sense perspective, it is relatively simple. Something “outside” the universe that is separate from space and time has thrust into existence space and time. Many atheistic minded people tend to add layer upon layer as a form of objection to this argument. They tend to say things like “Who created the Creator?”, demonstrating that they don’t understand the definition of Creator. You may as well as “To whom is the bachelor married?” It is an illogical statement. Just because you don’t understand the concept of the uncreated Creator, doesn’t make your objection any less asinine.
It is worth noting that I am not a philosopher or classically trained theologian, which is why I am not going to get into depths of the strictly clinical arguments like that of the First Cause. This series is more about how Atheism is untenable as a position when followed to its fullness, not about how to prove God exists. There are plenty of wonderful philosophers who explain those arguments most strongly. I would recommend a podcast called “Pints with Aquinas” to further investigate that type of logic.
Why does Atheism leave no room for morality?
It was a common theme among the existentialists of the 19th century to acknowledge that without God, everything is permissible in the end. Nietzsche took that to mean that we must create our own morality, and Dostoevsky took that to mean that God was truly necessary and binding on morality. When we speak of atheism, what we are really referring to is a non-theistic materialism. A belief that there is only the material world with no metaphysical structure. There is no soul, there is no God. There is simply energy and matter, and the bouncing around of atomic structures that move around the elemental nature of the universe. We are the product of evolution, blind chance, there is no inherent plan or design, and in the end we are simply dead and gone to the universe, never to exist in any way ever again. Yeesh… Is it any wonder why atheistic cultures tend to have high rates of suicide?
This argument or set of claims, although depressing as anything, is convincing for many people. I have heard that it is “liberating” to be an atheist, because in the end it is really only you and your thoughts. That sounds more like Hell to me. That being said, my opinion on atheism doesn’t change the fact of whether it is true or not. I really hate mosquitoes, but they unfortunately still exist.
We reach a conundrum in our quest for a comprehensive atheistic worldview when we consider the implications on questions of morality. We are unable to escape the trap of trying to suggest that in the end there is no metaphysical basis for truth, without appealing to a metaphysically binding notion of truth. For example, when an atheist argues that, in their opinion, religions have caused harm, he is appealing to a moral standard that we are supposed to share. Not just a moral standard that we share, but a moral standard that was binding at the time of the religious conflict, and is still binding now. He is appealing to an unchanging concept of right and wrong. Now, of course he may believe that our moral standards could somehow change with culture and time, but he would be wrong. Arguing that morality can change with circumstance is like trying to reason to the notion of reasoning without using reason. To suggest that morality can change in its foundations with time and culture is impossible. There is nothing inherently moral or immoral about strict blind nature. The closest thing we see to morality in non-rational things is a quest for convenience of survival that sometimes includes a group ethic that makes survival more achievable. Human morality works strictly against this animal instinct. In fact, we detest selfish people more than anyone, yet they are doing the most strictly material thing in looking out for themselves.
Our morality is not based on culture, because people precede culture, and therefore before the culture can be established, they are already moral. It is true that conventions may change, but not commandments. There has never been a culture where dishonesty was seen as honesty, yet there was never a consortium of people from each individual household in each individual culture who democratically voted on whether it was good to be honest. And even if they did, they would come with their preconceived notions of honesty, and even if they used different words, they would soon find out that they believed and acted precisely the same as the others when referring to the same virtues.
Our morality cannot be based on instinct either. When two instincts are in conflict with one another, it is the strongest that wins. Sometimes, our instincts are in line with the moral choice, but they aren’t always. For example, the Maternal Instinct is more often than not a good thing, but it can become a vice when a mother becomes a Freudian nightmare. It is in fact something separate from our instincts that tells us which instinct ought to be listened to. Our instinct for survival does not tell us to jump into freezing water to save a life. Our instinct to procreate does not tell us to remain faithful to our spouse. But our morals do.
The Moral law is the ruler by which we measure our choices. It is separate from our biology as it tells us to do things that go against our biology. It is separate from our passions as it tells us to be dispassionate. Even the most sophisticated of atheistic scientists have begrudgingly admitted that there is no basis for morality in the purely natural world.
This does not mean that atheists can’t be moral. On the contrary, they usually object to religion because they find it so “immoral.” But, if you wish to remain an atheist, I would be careful. Be careful that you don’t contemplate the notion of Right and Wrong too much. Because, if you do, you will find yourself appealing to a metaphysical and binding set of principals that are ethereal and oddly spiritual in nature.