Late Night Musings on Atheism

As I lay in bed try­ing to go to sleep last night, athe­ism crossed my mind. Strange, I know, but it occurred to me that an athe­ist can­not argue against Chris­tian­i­ty (or real­ly, just about any form of the­ism) with­out first aban­don­ing an athe­is­tic pretense.

Take Epi­cu­rus’ fail­ing attempt at being clever: “Either God wants to abol­ish evil, and can­not; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but can­not, he is impo­tent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abol­ish evil, and God real­ly wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?” (quot­ed in 2000 Years of Dis­be­lief).

Curi­ous­ly, I saw that quote tied to an image of Epi­cu­rus styled as a moti­va­tion­al poster with the tagline “Athe­ism: Win­ning since 33 AD.” That’ curi­ous because Epi­cu­rus lived sev­er­al hun­dred years before that, but giv­en the athe­ist’s req­ui­site abil­i­ty to invent truth out of thin air, I guess we can for­give the cre­ator of the image for his over­sight, right?

Epi­cu­rus’ rid­dle or para­dox or what­ev­er you want to call it pre­sup­pos­es the exis­tence of good.

You see, begin­ning with a Judeo-Chris­t­ian under­stand­ing of a Sov­er­eign God who works all things accord­ing to His Will, there is no “prob­lem of evil.” How­ev­er, rip­ping the idea of absolute good from a Judeo-Chris­t­ian frame­work and then attempt­ing to mar­ry that idea both with a lim­it­ed under­stand­ing of the world and an erro­neous con­cept of God… well, of course there’s going to be prob­lems with your con­clu­sions. Epi­cu­rus, were he a wis­er man, would have fault­ed his own start­ing points rather than attempt­ing to fault faith in God based upon his conclusions.

So what do I mean when I say that an athe­ist must aban­don his athe­is­tic pre­sup­po­si­tions in order to mock, deride, or oth­er­wise chal­lenge the con­cept of God?

Epi­cu­rus’ rid­dle itself pre­sup­pos­es an absolute mea­sure of moral good­ness by which God can be judged, but if there is no God, then who is the arbiter of this mea­sure of good­ness? Inevitably, that arbiter is the athe­ist him­self or, per­haps, a group­ing of his peers or a major­i­ty in what­ev­er cul­ture the athe­ist is com­ing from. While only an absolute, tran­scen­dent being could arbi­trate an absolute, tran­scen­dent moral­i­ty, plen­ty of athe­ists claim to be able to do so, effec­tive­ly mak­ing them­selves their own gods. Athe­ism, then, becomes a guise for wor­ship­ing the crea­ture rather than the Cre­ator, a sys­tem of play­ing god legit­imized by so-called “great thinkers” such as Richard Dawkins or Friedrich Nietzsche.

The dif­fer­ence, an athe­ist might say, is in the­ism, one wor­ships a super­nat­ur­al god where­as in athe­ism, there is noth­ing supernatural.

Fair enough, but I think claim­ing the abil­i­ty to arbi­trate some all-encom­pass­ing idea of moral truth is a claim to some­thing super­nat­ur­al. After all, true nat­u­ral­is­tic moral­i­ty is tru­ly an “any­thing goes” affair. Eat your young, fight over ter­ri­to­ry, kill your mate, throw your drop­pings, attack the weak first.


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8 responses to “Late Night Musings on Atheism”

  1. Sandi Avatar
    Sandi

    Ok, here is a com­ment. I don’t know what to say. You make me think about a lot of things–even if I don’t always agree. Maybe that was a real com­ment after all :)

  2. Rick Beckman Avatar

    That’s what I’m here for, to make you think and, if need be, ask questions!

  3. Samuel Skinner Avatar
    Samuel Skinner

    “Strange, I know, but it occurred to me that an athe­ist can­not argue against Chris­tian­i­ty (or real­ly, just about any form of the­ism) with­out first aban­don­ing an athe­is­tic pretense.”

    Tran­scen­den­tal Argument
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_argument_for_the_existence_of_God

    “Epi­cu­rus rid­dle or para­dox or what­ev­er you want to call it pre­sup­pos­es the exis­tence of good.”

    Show­ing an incon­sis­tan­cy does not require any pre­sup­po­si­tions- it mere­ly shows some­thing is not inter­nal­ly consistant.

    “You see, begin­ning with a Judeo-Chris­t­ian under­stand­ing of a Sov­er­eign God who works all things accord­ing to His Will, there is no “prob­lem of evil.” ”

    Because you deny that evil exists. Which means that you have declared that suf­fer­ing is not bad.

    “Epi­cu­rus rid­dle itself pre­sup­pos­es an absolute mea­sure of moral good­ness by which God can be judged, but if there is no God, then who is the arbiter of this mea­sure of goodness?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

    “While only an absolute, tran­scen­dent being could arbi­trate an absolute, tran­scen­dent morality,”

    Or you could go with real­i­ty. It is absolute and transen­dant enough for our purposes.

    “Fair enough, but I think claim­ing the abil­i­ty to arbi­trate some all-encom­pass­ing idea of moral truth is a claim to some­thing supernatural.”

    Moral­i­ty involves the actions between indi­vid­u­als. Noth­ing super­nat­ur­al there.

    ” After all, true nat­u­ral­is­tic moral­i­ty is tru­ly an “any­thing goes” affair. Eat your young, fight over ter­ri­to­ry, kill your mate, throw your drop­pings, attack the weak first.”

    Er, no. You are think­ing of nat­ur­al selec­tion, which weeds out those traits.
    Eat­ing your young- no offspring
    Fight over ter­ri­to­ry- prop­er­ty rights
    Kill your mate- no offspring
    Throw your drop­ping- you get sick and die
    Attack the weak first- you appear weak and your neigh­bors take you down.

    1. Rick Beckman Avatar

      So sur­vival is the ulti­mate end of moral­i­ty, gotcha. Good to know. Does­n’t real­ly answer any­thing and in fact rais­es even more questions.

      “Or you could go with reality…”

      Prob­lem is, any philoso­pher’s views of real­i­ty are nec­es­sar­i­ly lim­it­ed by what phys­i­cal sense can tell. How pride­ful we would be to assume that our sens­es can tell us any­thing about absolute real­i­ty, espe­cial­ly if one begins with the pre­sup­po­si­tion that these sens­es are the prod­uct of evolution.

  4. Samuel Skinner Avatar
    Samuel Skinner

    “So sur­vival is the ulti­mate end of moral­i­ty, gotcha. Good to know. Doesn’t real­ly answer any­thing and in fact rais­es even more questions.”

    Nope. Pro­duc­ing off­spring is the end goal of evo­lu­tion. For­tu­nate­ly humans have devel­oped cul­ture which can allow us to ignore the whole genet­ics thing. Still, work­ing to have the most off­spring does­n’t mean socio­path­ic behav­ior- it means donat­ing gen­er­ous­ly to sperm banks.

    Moral­i­ty is more utilitarian.

    “Prob­lem is, any philosopher’s views of real­i­ty are nec­es­sar­i­ly lim­it­ed by what phys­i­cal sense can tell. How pride­ful we would be to assume that our sens­es can tell us any­thing about absolute real­i­ty, espe­cial­ly if one begins with the pre­sup­po­si­tion that these sens­es are the prod­uct of evolution.”

    Of course we are look­ing at shad­ows on the cave wall. But they are good enough for us. As long as the world is inter­nal­ly con­sis­tent, it does­n’t make a dif­fer­ence how “real” it is for try­ing to under­stand it.

    1. Rick Beckman Avatar

      Does your world­view pro­vide for a “con­sis­tent” view of those who are unable to repro­duce? Are they more or less impor­tant than those who can?

      How­ev­er, again, if we’re look­ing only to the nat­ur­al order for what’s right or wrong or mean­ing­ful or val­ue­less… then, I must reit­er­ate that there are no answers in nature. All is van­i­ty, and the end of all life on earth is des­tined to die with the sun, regard­less of how many species reproduced.

  5. Alessa Avatar
    Alessa

    Hey, Mr. Chris­t­ian? How old was Jesus when he got crucified?

    Oh, you don’t know, do you?
    Thirty-three.

    Not only do you miss the joke entire­ly, but you don’t even know what year your sup­posed Lord and Sav­ior was “proven” as such. It is tru­ly sad, con­sid­er­ing you have to attack a philoso­pher who’s been dead for longer than Jesus has even been a leg­end just to tran­si­tion into your bab­bling tirade, that you don’t believe in Chris­tian­i­ty strong­ly enough to actu­al­ly read the entire Bible.

    I sup­pose the axiom is reversed for Chris­tians, though–it’s not how sin­cere you are, it’s what you “believe.”

  6. Rick Beckman Avatar

    I’m not entire­ly sure what you’re talk­ing about, Alessa; I assume your ref­er­ence to Jesus’ age at cru­ci­fix­ion was because of the “Athe­ism: Win­ning since 33” thing. If so, then the joke was faulty: Epi­cu­rus had noth­ing to do with the events of 33 — actu­al­ly, it’s very unlike­ly Jesus was cru­ci­fied that year as well. Sor­ry to dis­ap­point your well-rea­soned com­ment, but it’s far more like­ly Jesus was cru­ci­fied in 29, hav­ing been born four or five years pri­or to “year 1.”

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Rick Beckman