Morality Without Deity
The logical conclusion of Atheism obviously is Nihilism and Nihilism says we are nothing but an illusion. So the ultimate choice is between God or nothing, there's no middle way in this matter.
This might not be true.
To some extent, the monotheism or God concept of Judaism was likely an ancient form of atheism, and to some extent it still is.
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham's very first revelation from God was that there were no gods like the ones sold by his father Terah in his shop. His father provided various idol gods to people of various beliefs. The narrative states that after contemplating on the matter for some time, young Abraham reasoned that the world and its beauty and all that people on it had to be caused by something far greater than the god images people purchased from his father--even greater than the concepts behind the idols which filled his father's shop. The world was too wonderful to be the product of such things, Abraham understood. There had to be a greater Cause than the deities that were represented in image form on a shop's shelves or even those worshipped in nature (such as fire, water, clouds and wind).
This great Cause is in a sense not a deity at all, at least not a deity in the sense of human comprehension. While referred to as "God," the Ultimate Cause is remarkably greater than even this mortal designation. The interesting factor that God is worshipped with no image and that God's name is not pronounced makes God somewhat of an anti-God. I have often explained the Jewish understanding of God as the "un-God," much as the soda pop 7-Up was once sold as the "un-Cola."
At least from a Jewish perspective on monotheism and philosophy, atheism may not be a dead end road at all. Denying the God-concept which, as you point out, is often the one promoted by Fundamentalist Protestantism, may be quite efficacious.
The Catholic and Orthodox concept of God is virtually similar to the basic Jewish one, namely that for all we might explain about God all definitions fail and God remains mysterious. Even the reason for the advent of Jesus Christ in the world was, according to Christians, to make this mysterious God relatable and comprehensible. Colossians 1:15 describes him as "the image of the invisible God," even though as the story of Abraham from Jewish tradition points out, God is not an idol deity, God is not a God with an image.
On the other hand, you could also be right in saying that the ultimate end of atheism is nothing. But is such "nothing" incapable of being another type of revelation of God? That "nothing" is also what describes our God. One seeks an image to represent God, one leaves with nothing. One wants to hear the true pronunciation of the Name of God, one is told to say nothing. One wants to see the Great Cause of the universe? One can point their telescopes anywhere and everywhere they wish, and all that the human eye will see is nothing.
The anonymous work that inspired St. John of the Cross, The Cloud of Unknowing, suggests that the way to truly know God is to abandon any definitions and attributes one places upon God through the concepts they learn. The work suggests that the reason many of us argue about what God is has to do with our failure to surrender our own ego. Just as the Israelites fatefully created an image of a Golden Calf and declared it God, sometimes theists make up a similar mental image of dogmas and doctrines that define God for them. The work teaches us that in the end the only true way that one may begin to glimpse the nature of God is to let go of our own concepts of God, to enter this "cloud of unknowing." Only by embracing the "nothing" can one truly find Something.
Better to find a common ground in the convictions of our atheist sisters and brothers than to challenge their claims by arguing over...nothing.
I know that not so deep in your mind, when you think about your own death, automatically comes a steady sensation that someway somehow clinical death is not the end. - John_Mann
I can honestly say I do not have that sensation. The possibility of a hereafter is more than a philosophical puzzle to me (metastatic currently in remission). I had no consciousness prior to my physical life, amazingly the world proceeded without me. It will do so again. I have had a general anaesthetic a few times. I suppose death will be exactly like that.
However I think this comment of yours is the real core of the debate. Unless life is eternal you find it hard to see that it is meaningful. Unless moral decisions are based in the character of an almighty god you see them as no more binding than a personal preference. You then make an unnecessary leap into abyss of nihilism.
I hope I have characterised your position accurately. Please correct me otherwise.
I do sympathise with your fears. Coming to terms with the provisional nature of our existence is not easy. The odds of our being here as individuals was astonishingly small. We won the biggest lottery imaginable the moment we were conceived. The speciality of our species was our large and complex brains, evolved for their ability to live in complex social groups using advanced language skills. We possess functions for empathy, compassion, justice and reciprocal altruism as well as guilt, disgust, fear, anger and revenge.
You make a distinction between Homo sapiens and the rest of the animal kingdom that is unwarranted. Ethologists have observed many of the functions that underpin our moral capacity in other species of social animals. Pre-human species left behind evidence that they were in any ways like us. They cared for their aged and sick and buried their dead with ritual. I could recommend some sources for you on that.
Christians build their beliefs about humanity on unproven and unscientific dogmas that have some very negative moral consequences. Prohibitions on stem cell research rests on an anti-scientific assertion about the zygote. Laws about contraception have done immeasurable harm to the poorest societies on earth. The desire for eternal rewards and justice leads to the indoctrination of children with disgusting threats about hellfire. Saving the souls of infidels from eternal torture has been the justification for appalling atrocities.
You seem to want to have your cake and eat it. You boast about the contribution Christianity has made to science and yet you want to put unscientific dogma off-limits. I found your assertion that "the logical conclusion of materialism is consciousness doesn't exists at all" to be especially strange. I have read Dan Dennett's book "Consciousness Explained" - he over-reaches in the title but nowhere does he claim the consciousness does not exist. Neither does Sam Harris. Neither have I. Consciousness is very real. However it is not necessary to posit a "ghost in the machine" in order to account for it.
I actually believe that theists and atheists find life to be meaningful for exactly the same ordinary reasons. Both of us have the similar longings and fears. Atheists accept the inevitable uncertainty, insecurity and injustice of life. Theists adopt evidence-free narratives that provide easy answers and go to extraordinary lengths to cover over the inconsistencies that result.
Lots more to say, but enough for now.
nice post, cofty. I don't have fears of dying and death either.
john mann, I was just reading the intro to Dan Dennett's book Consciousness explained, on amazon (they let you have a preview before buying) and he actually uses the illustration of a tool - a saw - to illustrate what he means. I'm assuming that he uses the saw to indicate how consciousness cuts through stuff.
anyway he does raise the issue of eliminivatism and says he isn't one. I'm assuming he goes on to explain why he isn't in the book. He does claim to an extent to be a verificationist - I'm wondering if he means that he uses consciousness as a tool to verify things. I guess I would need to read the book to find out.
david jay & cofty - I agree about finding common ground
the common ground I can add to this thread is one drawn from Seneca (was discussing this on another thread). Seneca's recommendation was that we be filled with admiration for the power that is attributed to larger than life phenomena. Senecca himself tended to believe in divine providence and divinty within humans and he tended to emphasize this in his discussions with the epicurean Lucillus. The epicurean argument was that there was no divine providence and that we are quite badly made when we stop and think about it. the epicurean argument develops the idea of natural forces evident in volcanic activity, earthquakes, storms etc and that humans must find a way to live with these powerful, scary yet admirable things.
I guess they agreed on one thing and that is - admiration for phenomena that is much more powerful than humans and on which we depend and against which we contend.
Cofty » I want to succinctly lay out my response as an atheist, and show that a supreme being is not required for objective morality. It is helpful to distinguish between absolute morality, objective morality and subjective morality. Christian apologists frequently conflate the first two, and secular debaters often fail to point out the difference.
But can't it be argued that none of these moralities exist in the absence of a God? Or that all morality in the absence of God is subjective? The problem is, there has to be standards to determine morality. There also has to be consequences, which holds morality together.
Can mankind establish a secular set of standards of morality? That's difficult. Anciently, Balaam told Balak, king of a Canaan people, that the only way to curse Israel was to lead them into wickedness. He himself had tried to curse Israel several times, but when he tried to curse Israel, only blessings came out. So, greedy for Balak's promised gratity, he told Balak the only way to destroy Israel was to destroy it from within. It worked, but when Israel eventually defeated Balak's military, they found Balaam, dragged him from a tent and killed him with a sword.
The same has happened today. Abortion, homosexuality, fornication (and soon to be paedophilia) -- all are excluded from man's objective immorality. Yet they will defile and destroy a nation as if there was no code of morality. Jesus noted that even the wicked love their families. He might also said they fight for their countries, refrain from stealing, be good and loyal friends. Certainly the Caananites didn't consider themselves evil, even when engaging in disgusting sexual practices and sacrificing their children to Moloch. So Christian morality will never be atheist or secular morality.
Yes, so-called Christianity murdered millions, but it was an apostate Christianity. Secular Nazism and communism murdered many more. Yet each had its own ethics quite removed from true Christianity.
But can't it be argued that none of these moralities exist in the absence of a God? Or that all morality in the absence of God is subjective? - Cold Steel
No it can't for the reasons I laid out in some detail in my OP.
The problem is, there has to be standards to determine morality.
No there doesn't as I have explained at length. Our actions can be measured against the effects they have on the well being of conscious creatures.
If you want to argue that homosexual sex is morally wrong you have to provide objective reasons that don't amount to "god says...."
Who says abortion is excluded from discussions about objective morality? I think this a perfect example of an issue where facts are essential to reaching a reasonable decision. However as soon as you throw in evidence-free assertions about souls you exclude yourself from rational debate.
Your assertion regarding pedophilia is groundless fear-mongering. The objective facts surrounding sexualisation of children is the strongest protection we have.
Secular Nazism and communism murdered many more
Nazism was a pseudo-christian cult. Communism was profoundly anti-rational and opposed to objective scientific research that conflicted with its ideology.
I am advocating a rational, post-enlightenment, objective morality based on evidence about reality and human nature.
It is human nature to be moral because man is made in God's image, but since humans -unlike animals- are free moral agents, they are free to fo whatever they like, even to deviate from what comes naturally, but not without consequences.
Moral like when god ordered babies cut out of women's stomachs (God, the First Abortionist!) or when he said it was OK to beat slaves to death as long as it took a day or two to die or when he said take the virgin girls and forcibly make them your wives, meaning rape them.
Which of those is the morality to which you refer?
My goal is not proselytizing but just offer another view (the oldest and majority) of Christianity.
Oldest? My my, look who doesn't know their subject material! And you said you were all for education. How precious.
Modern atheism seems like to orbit in just a denial of the concept of God provided by a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible blended with a baseless scientism
Baseless? Name one thing religion figured out about the universe that didn't involve science. Go on. I dare you.
God is not a subject to science, but God is subject to philosophy
Explain the difference between science and philosophy, please.
Atheists seems to forget that the very scientific method is a philosophical method applied to the physical world (one aspect of the scientific method is based on a philosophy created by a Catholic monk, the Occam's Razor). So it's very illogical to use scientific method to disprove God.
Atheist lack belief in god. That's it. If you want to pretend to speak of atheists as a group, that's literally the only thing you can say about them.
So, from that accurate starting point, explain explicitly the steps from "Occoam was a Franciscan" to "illogical to use". You kind of glossed over all of the bits that would make any of that make sense or form an argument. "Because Catholic" is not an argument.
With this atheistic view it's also impossible to cope with things not reached by scientific method of explanation like morality, justice, etc.
I cope with it just fine. Wrong and try again.
Consciousness cannot be submitted to the ordinary scientific method (we even don't have a definition of it) so the logical conclusion of materialism is consciousness doesn't exists at all.
Why not? Details, facts and evidence required. You've provided none. Fail and try again.
Famous atheists also affirm that the universe came to existence (Hawking talks about a strange argument that gravity is the ultimate cause) by itself so logically you have a nothing as a first cause. Ultimately our entire universe (including us) is caused by nothing.
What do you mean by "nothing"?
Nihilism says that there's nothing.
100% incorrect. You fail at knowing what nihilism is. Care to try again?
To some extent, the monotheism or God concept of Judaism was likely an ancient form of atheism, and to some extent it still is.
This great Cause is in a sense not a deity at all, at least not a deity in the sense of human comprehension. While referred to as "God," the Ultimate Cause is remarkably greater than even this mortal designation.
The Catholic and Orthodox concept of God is virtually similar to the basic Jewish one, namely that for all we might explain about God all definitions fail and God remains mysterious.
That's true. It's Dawkins' argument called "one god further". We truly are atheists and just don't go one God further.
Catholics admit to be atheists in a sense. And God beyond the Trinity is a total mystery.
But we diametrically disagree with nihilism because we say there's a Divine Cause even though a mysterious one.
john mann - indigeneous cultures are pretty much atheistic too. we have translated them wrongly. what they call supernatural has to do with this life in its larger than human form - plants, animals, water, air etc - all the things they depend on to live successfully.