Uncommon Sense

September 12, 2021

If God Does Not Exist, Everything Is Permitted

Filed under: Morality,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:30 am
Tags: , ,

“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” This quote from The Brothers Karamazov (by Dostoevsky) is frequently invoked by those who believe in God. Without faith in a god which lays down the rules, their argument goes, we are doomed. “How could we possibly know the difference between good and evil without God,” they ask. (Apparently they haven’t read Genesis 1-2)

But . . . is it so?

If you look at European culture as it has been spread around the world as “western civilization,” has any act of depravity not been observed to have been enacted by Christians? I could have asked if any act of depravity not been enacted by Christians in service to Christianity, and the argument would have been no weaker, but I am sticking to generalities.

Those who “fear God,” as Christians claim, seem to have committed the most egregious acts, so where did the permission come from to do those things? (I can hear the apologists lining up to claim “No true Christian would have . . .” but that is clearly not true.)

Well, maybe it is not so much a matter of kind but of extent. Maybe far fewer atrocities have been committed because of this god’s restrictions. Here we have a lot of good data from around the world: basically, the more religious a country is, the higher the rate of crime, including assaults, murders, etc.

What about states within the United States? Again, when it comes to nearly all standard measures of societal health: homicide rates, violent crime rates, poverty rates, domestic abuse rates, obesity rates, educational attainment, funding for schools and hospitals, teen pregnancy rates, rates of sexually transmitted diseases, unemployment rates, domestic violence, etc. the correlation is solid: the least religious states in America tend to fare much, much better than the most religious.

Correlation is not causation, of course, but there is no evidence for the contrary opinion that those who do not accept god belief are less moral, because all of the data points the other way.

I guess I should point out that Dostoevsky was writing fiction and he was putting those words into a character’s mouth for a reason. If the character were a naïve, young, newly-converted Christian, they would mean one thing. If they were in the mouth of an authoritarian government official, they would mean another thing, no? (Authoritarians love them some authoritarian religion, as it removes blame off of them and onto some deity.)

On top of this, consider Yahweh’s list of permissions. No such thing? Okay, then Jesus’ list of permissions. Again, no such thing. Drat this is hard.

They did say “do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” but what if you are a masochist and like being humiliated and beaten with whips? And most cultures do not list the “golden rule” this way, they list it as what has been called the “silver rule:” do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. (The assignment of precious metals here was obviously done by a Christian as gold is universally held in higher esteem than silver.) But, the majority of the cultures favor the silver rule formulation. They are telling us what is not permitted, as opposed to telling us what we are permitted.

If only permitted things could be done, we would still be living in caves or grass huts. The operative principle in our culture is “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” Basically, if you try something that hasn’t been “permitted” and it works, you will automatically be forgiven, so it is better to not ask for permission as it might be withheld.

And, think about it. If one is only allowed to do “permitted” things, one is a totalitarian subject. Again, this is part of the control mechanism which is this religion, part of the “obedience above all else” ethos embedded within it.

How would you like to have to solicit permission before doing anything? Would you resent that? I think you would, as it is an enforced child-like position you are forced into. You have no personal autonomy. (I remember refugees coming from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, and they showed zero initiative. They had been trained to wait for orders. They were nice young people by the way, just trained differently.)

Of course, there is still the debate over what is permitted in Christianity and what is not. Go back a couple of hundred years and slavery is permitted, even supported by various Christian religions. Today, slavery still exists but is considered illegal everywhere. Did Yahweh/Jesus change his mind as to what is permitted? If this happens again, how will we know? Are we supposed to accept the word of Christian officials? They do not exactly have a good track record.

The statement above is either vacuous or no longer has any meaning, if it ever did. It is being used as cannon fodder, being fed to Christian soldiers as if it were real ammunition, rather than blanks.

August 17, 2016

Objective Morality, Really?

I have been reading a number of recent blog posts regarding the topic of objective versus subjective moralities. The usual terms are thrown around: “illusory,” “fictional,” “delusional,” etc. I am amazed that this discussion continues.

The only thing of value regarding a moral system is whether or not people will follow it on with actual behavior. A beautiful conceptual framework that everyone ignores is useless as only through behaviors can such a system be identified. Consider slavery: throughout the bulk of human history slavery was considered an acceptable practice, supported by myriad individuals, governments, and religions. Today it is universally considered immoral and anyone practicing it is considered a criminal. Slavery used to be moral, now it is not.

I had to look up definitions of the word “objective” because I thought maybe the discussants were using different definitions and hence the confusion and arguments. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary “objective” has the following applicable meanings:

1bof, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers :  having reality independent of the mind <objective reality> <our reveries … are significantly and repeatedly shaped by our transactions with the objective world — Marvin Reznikoff> — compare subjective

3aexpressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment>

Okay, if there is such a thing as “objective morality,” allow me to suggest an experiment. At the snap of my fingers all of the people on the planet disappear. (Obviously this is a “thought experiment.”) A lone alien explorer lands his ship on the planet to investigate what happened. It quickly discovers that we called our planet Earth (and a bunch of other names), and that history stopped abruptly on August 17, 2016. Question: would they be able to find this “objective morality” if that was their primary interest? If so, what would it be?

When a believer in objective morality can answer these questions, I will begin to consider the existence of an objective morality. I will even help a Western theist of a Christian bent begin: the first question’s answer would be “It would be found in the Holy Bible,” of course. That is what I would expect they would say. But they have to go on. What would the alien researcher read that would delineate a moral system that was objective? (Please note that “because God said so” is not an objective statement.)

Please note whether the alien researcher would find evidence of large numbers of people following this system. Please include the moral instruction from your source regarding slavery in your answer.

I’ll wait.

Blog at WordPress.com.