The Atheist Position

A quote from a conversation I had with an Atheist who became a Christian:

“The only rational position for an atheist is to be a nihilist and hedonist. Nonetheless, they still live their lives like God exists.”

42 thoughts on “The Atheist Position

  1. Well, this former atheist is clearly wrong.

    I don’t live like a nihilist or hedonist, and I don’t live like a god exists. I live like I want to have the most pleasant life I can, and see the best way to do so is to treat other people pleasantly.

    1. And I encourage you to do so.

      I think what he is saying is that the subjective morality based on empathy and avoidance of suffering has no rational foundation. Man may have evolved a sense of empathy and avoidance of suffering, but that has no bearing on whether it is right or wrong for man to use them as pillars for their moral actions.

      1. This false charge is based on a false dichotomy that presumes either morality through religion OR nihilism/hedonism. What is avoided, of course, is showing evidence that morality comes from religion. This is patently false and easily shown that morality precedes religion by the agreement that scriptural references to morality must be interpreted. No interpretation is possible if we must look to that scripture to first cause our morality.

      2. Tildeb,

        Morality does not only come from God, it also comes from nature.

        I’m quoting myself here:

        “[God] has given a law of nature whereby man’s actions may be conducted in accordance with his greatest happiness. Man’s reason, although corrupt, has the ability to discover this law of nature manifested by the moral standards men have held each other accountable to from the beginning of time until now. Because of man’s corrupted reasoning, moral standards look different throughout history, but never amount to a total difference. A greater understanding of the natural law provides better individual self-regulation, which in turn, keeps liberty free from corruption.”

        Man seeks morality because it is in his nature to do so whether he is Atheist or Christian. This is God’s stamp upon man. Non-religious man seeks to live by this law of human nature, and religious man seeks to improve upon our understanding of it through the “revealed” law of God.

        If there is no God who made this law of human nature, then I see no reason Atheists should bother themselves arguing a non-existent moral code. I find it very enlightening that we all think morality is very important no matter what we believe.

      3. In other words, if you seek to live by a moral code, then you are living your life as if God exists. There is no foundation for saying that actions based off of empathy and avoidance of suffering are right except by referring to the law of human nature created by God.

  2. “Man seeks morality because it is in his nature to do so whether he is Atheist or Christian. This is God’s stamp upon man.”

    And his stamp upon chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and other social mammals, apparently…

    1. To my knowledge, chimpanzees and other social mammals don’t worry about whether they’ve chosen the right moral action. Although they may… who knows.

      1. Look up recent studies on animals and moral or ethical behavior. The most obvious of those being the instinct of a mother protecting her young, which seems to be the origin of a great deal of mammalian morality.

      2. Morality is not merely instinct. We suppress instincts and encourage others in certain situations because of a sense of right and wrong. But the sense of right and wrong cannot itself be an instinct any more than the keys of a piano can play themselves. Morality is the piano player.

        The behavior of a mammalian mother to nurture her young is not itself a foundation for morality. Just because a behavior happens in nature is not a reason to call it right or wrong. Some animals eat their young. Why don’t we call that good?

        It seems we have a preconceived notion of right and wrong before we evaluate another animals behavior or even our own behavior. This is the Law of human nature.

  3. “Morality is not merely instinct. ”

    I never said it was.

    “The behavior of a mammalian mother to nurture her young is not itself a foundation for morality.”

    How do you know? I say it is.

    “Just because a behavior happens in nature is not a reason to call it right or wrong. ”

    Agreed. So what?

    Morality is what we decide it is, from both instinct and investigation on actions and their consequences.

    “Some animals eat their young. Why don’t we call that good? ”

    Probably because we didn’t evolve from other animals that routinely eat their young. If we did, we probably would think eating some of our young was fine.

  4. “Morality is what we decide it is”

    This totally supports my post called Choose Your Own Adventure. Take note, Tildeb.

    This statement is totally self-serving. A judge of right and wrong using himself as a reference will soon find that what’s best for him is the determining factor. You could be the most moral person or the least moral person. You are the judge and jury. When morality can mean everything and nothing its true substance is emptiness. Morality then becomes a meaningless term except to conform to the will of the person wielding it for his own agenda. You can certainly justify any action with such an empty term. How then can you say that you are not, at least in some small part, a nihilist and a hedonist?

    1. “This totally supports my post called Choose Your Own Adventure. Take note, Tildeb. ”

      And by ‘we’ I mean humanity.

      Notice how most of our morality is exactly the same? Why? Because humans are surprisingly similar. Some absurdly high percentage don’t want to be killed, and recognize that killing someone else both prevents someone else from having what they want but also makes it more likely that someone will kill them in return. So they don’t. And suddenly, ta-da, we have a moral rule against murder.

      I’m describing what we have done. You may not like it, but it’s what humanity has always done and will always do. Luckily, most people are pretty rational when it comes to morality. When we aren’t, we go to war, which still happens as we’re not perfect.

    2. Simple. We are biologically related and so we share the same biological imperatives you assign to morality. That’s why we see the same behaviours you assign to morality in our closest kin.

      Morality is about right and wrong. How we inform what that looks like in action is what’s at issue. You try to inform your notions with a magical law you claim comes to us from some oogity boogity source. If that were so, then you are left with nothing to explain how this oogity boogity source has generated tens of thousands of competing religions each claiming to hold the keys to morality. Obviously, all cannot be correct, so how can we best determine which is the right one? How can we determine if even the right one is in fact correct? By granting faith-based beliefs to be the final arbiter alters nothing and doesn’t further our inquiry one bit. We’re still left with all these competing claims about which belief truly represents oogity boogity’s accurate morality.

      So we’re left with what exists in nature and we have in fact determined morality to have common markers in behaviour informed by biology’s interaction with the environment. This is why sometimes it’s considered ‘moral’ to kill and sometimes it is considered ‘immoral’. The difference is not based on faith about what oogity boogity wants us to do but on a common biological blueprint that considers the delicate balancing act about what is beneficial to the well-being of the individual and what is needed for the health and welfare of the individual’s related community. This is why we train military personal to view those they are to kill as belonging to another community, one that does not share similar values that help us to inform our local morality. This is also what religion does, to make shared beliefs the central value of the community and damn those outside the belief structure to having some other moral code. This is very divisive yet one has trouble getting believers to see this behaviour in themselves. From the believer’s POV, everything would be fine if everyone shared the same beliefs and many tend to work hard at trying to do just this, not realizing that what is being accomplished is the opposite… a break down of common human values in place of promoting certain faith-based values.

      So the claim that non believers support nihilism and hedonism is a false charge when what promotes social disharmony the most are the kinds of beliefs informed by claims in oogity boogity.

  5. Here’s a quote from a Christian who became an atheist:

    “What we call morality is a trait inherent to many social creatures. Moreover, the existence of biologically evolved morality requires no intervention of an entity one knows only by faith.”

    And speaking of “subjective morality” I can’t think of anything more capricious and subjective than the hideous morality outlined by Yaweh. But you can have your own subjective version as long as you’re willing to interpret it to your own liking, as you likely do. Unless you leave your job and your family and go preach the Gospel and/or stone gays, I doubt you do take Biblical morality literally. Enjoy your own subjective morality.

    1. And yet you feel perfectly capable of speaking on his/its behalf and proclaiming as if it’s true that god is not subject to any morality except what he holds himself to. There is no way for you to know this.

      1. I suppose it is more of a theological theory than a known fact. Logically speaking, if god created the rules then it is his perogative to choose to follow them or not. There is a philosophical point that perhaps the rules and god are symbiotic and that one did not precede the other which is plausible, but other than that I think it’s safe to say that if god exists, if god is the one true god and if god created the rules then he is not necessarily bound by them.

  6. Well I agree with you that there is probably no way to know for sure. All I’m saying is that god is not necessarily bound by rules he created. Did god build in to the rules his own allegiance to them? We would have to answer that first and I certainly do not know. But we can assume that he, being god, had a choice in the matter again assuming that god and “the rules” are not symbiotic.

    All we can say is that if god exists and god has revealed himself to us through scripture, assuming that scripture to be the canonized work known as the holy bible, then we can know what he requires of us by reading it.

    What he requires of himself is a matter on which I can only speculate, personally. I’m no theologian.

    Tildeb, why are you interested in debating this point? Being an atheist, I would think you would find it futile to address any points concerning the attributes of god.

    1. I am interested because I think clarity is important: when it comes to claims about god, I don’t know and you don’t either.

      What is left after this honest admission is speculation that must be accompanied by skepticism to remain honest. I obviously lean more towards skepticism whereas you lean more towards speculation. That’s fine and if left alone would be no big deal. Our differences would be minor.

      But rarely do believers admit even this much honesty. If they did, we would have a different world and a much more open and honest one, I think. But because many insert false certainty on the basis of believing their speculation is in fact true, we end up with an intrusion into the public domain of policies and laws that favour the speculative conclusions as if they were in fact true whereas, as we have seen, no one honestly knows. If I am going to reduce or infringe upon your civil rights and legal freedoms, then my reasons for doing so must be better than mere speculation. I need good reasons, ones that can be argued not on the basis of faith-based beliefs but on temporal merit. I have to show why such an infringement is necessary, how such an infringement adds to the public good. It falls on me to make my case based on reasons and not on unknowable speculation. Most importantly, it allows everyone to respect what’s true based on what is knowable.

      Once we realize that faith-based beliefs are unsupported by good reasons and knowable evidence, then and only then can we agree to separate personal beliefs from the public domain for the good of all – believer and non believer alike – and support public policies and laws that ensure not faith-based favouritism for some but equality for all. And I’m not just talking about religion here: I’m talking about ALL insertions of faith-based beliefs without proper regard for what is true. This includes a host of troubling beliefs that stand contrary to respecting what is knowable and what is true. We must know how to tell the difference between , say, claims of autism caused by vaccinations and why that is not true, why the truth of anthropomorphic global warming is factual, why evolution is not a belief but factual, and so on. Superstitions, conspiracy theories, complimentary and alternative ‘medicines’, all are faith-based beliefs that do not have a basis of truth to them but speculation. And the first step is understanding what is and is not knowable.

  7. The Christian doctrine of offering the invisible sky-god the blood of a savage animal or human sacrifice is without a doubt the single most immoral,barbaric,disgusting,sickening,revolting,idiotic, stone-age bunch of lunacy that the human mind has ever concocted in the entire history of our existence on this planet.
    Christians, you are truly deluded morons.

    Good day!

  8. To all,

    I have yet to hear any good foundation for an atheist to call anything right and wrong. You can identify beneficial behaviors like NotAScientist did when he mentioned the benefits of not killing people. But, it still has no bearing on whether the action is right or wrong, it’s just beneficial. Ask 100 people what is beneficial for them and they will give you 100 different answers. Everyone has very different ideas about what is beneficial.

    Eventually you have to admit there is no right and wrong.

    However, humanity has not simply identified beneficial behaviors. They have consistently labeled certain behaviors right and wrong. This law of human nature is identified quite easily when you hear someone say, “That’s not fair.” Not only does this man feel he has been wronged but he also expects that the other person knows the correct behavior that should have been done. And, what’s odd is that the accused man does not deny this “law” but tries to excuse himself by explaining his situation.

    This is obviously not just the product of identifying beneficial and non-beneficial behaviors, neither is this the product of biological imperatives. This is the law of human nature placed inside of man by the Creator himself. It cannot be explained when God is removed from the picture. Therefore, the atheist is left with no rational positions to take except for nihilism and hedonism. To live a moral life is to live like God exists, whether you realize it or not.

    1. You make an error in your reasoning when you state that behaviour you call moral cannot be the product of biological imperatives. This is the law of human nature placed inside of man by the Creator himself. It cannot be explained when God is removed from the picture.

      This factually wrong.

      Peter Singer and Marc Hauser show very clear, concise, testable, and repeatable evidence that this behaviour is indeed biological. You can’t simply dismiss their hard work by the merit of your assumptions alone. To do what you are doing and inserting a god where no god is required is intellectually arrogant, misleading, dishonest and willfully so.

      Moral behaviour from a biological perspective you claim must be beneficial and point out that concern for fairness contradicts this. It doesn’t. At all. When we talk about beneficial in terms of proffering evolutionary advantages, we can see how altruism and self-sacrifice fit into this puzzle. No god is needed. When we find species wide similarities in behaviour that is beneficial to the species we are not contradicting the notion of benefit by pointing out that such behaviour may carry a cost to personal benefit. You seem easily confused over these ideas and jump to conclusions that fail to provide alternative explanations except some element of oogity boogity as if that were both suitable and satisfying. It’s not.

      Considered another way, can you show how your theological beliefs stop you from doing what you claim all people feel like doing: raping and pillaging and stealing and having sex with dead bodies if the mood strikes?

      Have you ever – at any time – actually felt that doing any of these things were simply and merely a matter of valid choice without any consideration of their social implications and consequences?

      1. So Peter Singer and Marc Hauser have done work trying to justify “good without God”. Well, I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. You can’t just say that someone else has a good argument and leave it at that. Come up with one yourself. If you have a problem with my reasoning then show how I’m wrong. Don’t skirt the issue by saying other people have the answers. It’s so funny that you have to “justify” your position.

        I don’t even think you agree with Peter Singer. I remember you and I having a conversation over a video of Singer and you didn’t even come to the same conclusions he did. I clearly stated what he believed and gave you the time on the video that he said it and you still argued that “he was really trying to say this”, which in the end didn’t sound like what he said at all.

        I think Peter Singer is more honest than most atheists when it comes to morality from an evolutionary perspective and I’m glad that my morality is different than his.

        When non-believers who don’t accept the morality that comes from God do by nature the things that come from the morality dictated by God, they only reinforce God’s law. They show that it is written in their hearts. Meanwhile, their thoughts are accusing or excusing themselves as if this law really mattered.

        Why don’t you leave this “law of human nature” altogether? Go ahead. Leave the morality based on God and stand on evolutionary morality with all its implications. Peter Singer has done his best to do so, and has, in my opinion, alienated himself from the rest of humanity. They don’t like his morality. Hmmm… I wonder why.

  9. The interesting thing about God is that he is in charge. His word brought the cosmos into existence therefore his word is the ultimate authority. Like it or not, if you can’t beat, join him.

      1. How do I know? It’s a logical inference that I make based from the reality the nothing comes from nothing. So, since we see something then there must have been something before. I don’t have empirical evidence but I do think I’m right. It is not first hand knowledge but almost nothing is first hand knowledge so I don’t think I’m missing out on much by thinking that God exists.

  10. Why can you not see that the ‘nothing comes from nothing’ is wrong at every turn?

    You hold this to be self-evident but EXEMPT your god from exactly the same frame you put around everything else. If you’re going to exempt god, then be consistent: exempt everything else!

    You presume a starting point. You presume only god existed before this starting point. You presume god is exempt from that ‘before’ stage. That is incoherent.

    1. So are you saying there was nothing and then later there was suddenly and magically everything? That’s seems to me a more ridiculous belief than believing in a creator. I exempt God from the need for a beginning because there had to be a First Mover for there to be anything else. And I do this in part because if I said someone created God then the creator of God would probably be the real God. And then you might push me to find a creator for that God as well. It would never end. It can’t just go back for infinity. The only logical assumption then, would be that God (the real one that has no predecessor) is eternal and had no need for a beginning. Someone or something had to have NO beginning for anything to be here.

      1. No I’m not saying that at all. I’m just asking for consistency.

        So far there is no way to determine anything before the Big Bang. That’s about 14 billion years. This isn’t a guess; this is widely accepted by astrophysicists to match up with the evidence we see today. Within that frame falls the creation of the earth, roughly 4.5 billion years ago. From the evidence we have, this seems very reasonable. Biologists have looked at life on this planet and have come up with an explanation how life has changed over time that also matches up very well with every other associated area we can study… like genetics and geology. And so on.

        What we know is that the universe is changing and expanding, that these physical processes seem to follow the same laws of physics and chemistry that we have figured out work here. The way some of this evidence is collected is rather ingenious, like spectrometry and radio waves and so on. The data from the moon and Mars and our sun about age and composition corresponds exactly as we have predicted based on the science – the method we use for our inquiries – we have developed here on earth. It’s all quite remarkable. We have found what we suspected we would find on other celestial bodies made up of the same elements we have here, and so on.

        There is no evidence – yet – of any kind of intervention to these ongoing and stable processes, no special exemptions of physical and chemical laws, no contrary energy anomalies, nothing to indicate any good reason to believe in some extra agency that affects what we see. The logical conclusion to make is that if there is some designing agency, it remains very well hidden and what we find looks exactly it should if there were no interventionist creative agency at all.

        This is not a small problem theists need to deal with if they want their truth claims about god to have any merit in reality. That’s not anti-theist; that’s just the way things are working out when they didn’t have to work out this way at all.

        Your assertion that we must have a first cause I liken to accepting that a circle needs no beginning nor any end to be a circle. The universe needs no first cause creative beginning; it just is. But if we are going to insert a creator, then we face the difficult task of allowing this agency certain exemptions for it to make any sense, and you’ve pointed out one called infinite regress. We need to exempt some ‘god’ along the way… from that which we say is necessary for everything else to be something. I think that’s not a very good reason for explaining how things are the way they are. I think we can do much better than this.

        But perhaps the main problem here is feeling that we need a first cause at all or, as you quite rightly say, someone or something had to have no beginning for anything else to be here. That may be true but we’ve got nothing to go by. Your candidate for the job is god. My candidate is that there was no beginning at all, that the Big Bang was merely the latest point from which we can know anything about. Why can’t the universe be eternal? Why must it have a first cause?

        I’m very comfortable admitting that what came before we have no idea other than guessing, so I’ll comfortably wait to see if any good reasons for changing my mind come along. In the meantime I’ll continue to say quite honestly that I have no idea what existed prior to the Big Bang and sleep very well at night.

  11. Your circle has a problem. Where did it come from? It may have no start and no finish but it still got there somehow.

    I’m fine with the assumption that someone or “something” as I said before preceded existence. I believe it was someone but either way it’s more logical to say something than to say nothing at all preceded existence. I use the example of a teeter totter. As one side goes up the other comes down and vice versa, but if it at any point it becomes perfectly balanced in between its two extremes then it will forever stay that way unless acted upon by an outside force. Thus the law of cause and effect. For anything to happen there must be a cause. For existence to happen there must be a cause. Nothing will stay nothing unless something else acts upon it. If there was never something else to begin with, nothing would have stayed nothing. Now in temporal mechanics an effect can happen before a cause but there still has to be a cause somewhere in time.

    1. You assume the geometric shape is represented. I’m talking about the shape itself. And the universe? Remember, we’re missing about 95+-% of its matter (dark energy). Hard to say what cause equals what effect for its constantly evolving existence even though you seem pretty certain that such a cause must exist. The most local and recent cause is the Big Bang. What preceded this is unknowable because all evidence has been wiped..

      1. “You assume the geometric shape is represented. I’m talking about the shape itself”? I don’t understand either of these two sentences in light of our discussion here.

      2. Are you saying that I think the universe is in the shape of a circle? Or that you think it is? I didn’t assume that at all if that’s what you meant. I thought you were saying that space-time could be explained by imagining a circle.

      3. No. What I am comparing is your assumption that the universe must have a beginning point for it to be described as existing to the same kind of assumption that a circle must have a starting point for it to be described as existing.

        We find the universe thus.

        We find a circle thus.

        Why must we assume that each has a necessary starting point before we admit the existence before us?

        It doesn’t make any sense to me to apply this as a necessary condition for something to exist. I think we have to accept that something just is if we have no means to determine how it has come to be thus.

  12. Your eternal universe idea ignores the second law of thermodynamics. When entropy acts on a closed system like the universe it tends towards disorder and chaos. Entropy takes the given energy in a closed system and makes it unusable. Since there is a finite amount of energy, this means there is only so much to go around. Not enough to last forever and not an infinite amount to support an eternal universe.

    Even if the universe were an infinite loop it is still a closed system with a finite amount of energy, which means it is degrading from a starting point – the moment of zero entropy.

      1. It is well known to be a closed system, but I’m willing to accept arguments to the contrary. I’ll check out Krauss.

      2. Krauss is talking here about an open, closed or flat universe. That is not the same thing as the difference between an open and closed system. These are two different questions.

  13. From the ever erudite Sean Carroll:

    The singularity at the Big Bang doesn’t indicate a beginning to the universe, only an end to our theoretical comprehension. It may be that this moment does indeed correspond to a beginning, and a complete theory of quantum gravity will eventually explain how the universe started at approximately this time. But it is equally plausible that what we think of as the Big Bang is merely a phase in the history of the universe, which stretches long before that time – perhaps infinitely far in the past. The present state of the art is simply insufficient to decide between these alternatives; to do so, we will need to formulate and test a working theory of quantum gravity. . .

    . . . There are a number of avenues currently being explored by physicists that hope to provide a complete and self-contained account of the universe, including the Big Bang. Roughly speaking they can be divided into two types: “beginning” cosmologies, in which there is a first moment of time, and “eternal” cosmologies, where time stretches to the past without limit. . .

    . . .A provocative way of characterizing these beginning cosmologies is to say that “the universe was created from nothing.” Much debate has gone into deciding what this claim is supposed to mean. Unfortunately, it is a fairly misleading natural-language translation of a concept that is not completely well-defined even at the technical level. Terms that are imprecisely defined include “universe,” “created,” “from,” and “nothing.” (We can argue about “was.”)

    The problem with “creation from nothing” is that it conjures an image of a pre-existing “nothingness” out of which the universe spontaneously appeared – not at all what is actually involved in this idea. Partly this is because, as human beings embedded in a universe with an arrow of time, we can’t help but try to explain events in terms of earlier events, even when the event we are trying to explain is explicitly stated to be the earliest one. It would be more accurate to characterize these models by saying “there was a time such that there was no earlier time.”

    To make sense of this, it is helpful to think of the present state of the universe and work backwards, rather than succumbing to the temptation to place our imaginations “before” the universe came into being. The beginning cosmologies posit that our mental journey backwards in time will ultimately reach a point past which the concept of “time” is no longer applicable. Alternatively, imagine a universe that collapsed into a Big Crunch, so that there was a future end point to time. We aren’t tempted to say that such a universe “transformed into nothing”; it simply has a final moment of its existence. What actually happens at such a boundary point depends, of course, on the correct quantum theory of gravity.

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