Advanced Search

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be this way because Christians only act morally because they're told to by god. Atheists have no need to be good but seem to act that way because they logically realise that it is the right thing to do. Not from fear of god/hell.

On this question, I doubt I can do better than to recommend to you an excellent article written by Professor Donald Hubin, available at this link: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/264974452_Empty_and_Ultimately_Meaningless_Gestures

For years, scientists like Stephen Hawking have made claims, maintaining that

For years, scientists like Stephen Hawking have made claims, maintaining that the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world around us can be interpreted solely by reference to physical laws such as gravity. But could Hawking's claim is be misguided? He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict. But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. What Hawking appears to have done is to make a category mistake and to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not...

There's a lot going on in your question, and I doubt that my response will cover all of it. But I'll say, first, that it begs the question against Hawking to demand that he explain "the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world" if by "creativity" you mean something beyond the everyday creativity acknowledged by both sides of the debate (such as the creativity of human agents). Hawking doesn't accept the assumption that (for example) the laws of physics are the result of someone's creativity.

Second, Hawking would likely question your inference from the premise "All created things, such as the jet engine, require creators" to the conclusion "The laws of physics require a creator." The premise is true, but it doesn't imply the conclusion.

Third, it's not clear from your description of Hawking's view that he alleges a conflict between theism and the laws of physics. Rather, if I understand your description, Hawking claims that theism isn't necessary to explain what we observe. Now, if Hawking adds a premise to the effect that any hypothesis is false if it isn't necessary to explain what we observe, then he can generate a conflict. But such a premise is way too strong to be plausible.

Fourth, you appeal to the "sophistication" of the laws of physics as evidence of God's genius in creating them. But physicists prefer the simpler (and in that sense less sophisticated) of two hypotheses that predict the data equally well. You might reply that it's therefore the simplicity of the laws that suggests God's creative genius, but it can't be both the simplicity of the laws and their sophistication (non-simplicity) that does.

There's a lot going on in your question, and I doubt that my response will cover all of it. But I'll say, first, that it begs the question against Hawking to demand that he explain "the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world" if by "creativity" you mean something beyond the everyday creativity acknowledged by both sides of the debate (such as the creativity of human agents). Hawking doesn't accept the assumption that (for example) the laws of physics are the result of someone's creativity. Second, Hawking would likely question your inference from the premise "All created things, such as the jet engine, require creators" to the conclusion "The laws of physics require a creator." The premise is true, but it doesn't imply the conclusion. Third, it's not clear from your description of Hawking's view that he alleges a conflict between theism and the laws of physics. Rather, if I understand your description, Hawking claims that theism isn't necessary to explain what we observe. Now, if...

If there is no god, why do people behave in a moral and ethical manner?

If there is no god, why do people behave in a moral and ethical manner? One answer might be long-term self-interest: if you never tell a lie, for example, you will develop a favorable reputation among other people which will allow you to participate in all sorts of activities of which you would never be a part otherwise. Another answer might be "big picture" self-interest: people usually achieve more and have higher standards of living when they collaborate compared to when they compete: "competition" only works as a motivator when embedded in a broader collaborative structure first (i.e., if everyone plays by the rules, we aren't deliberately trying to injure a competitor because we don't want them trying to injure us and so we all place voluntary limits on our behaviors to promote a better outcome for all). While these answers are all well and good, there seems to be something missing: to be motivated SOLELY by self-interest, no matter how you dress it up, seems like a somewhat barren life. ...

If we are only molecules in motion and a few hundred thousand years from now, the world and history will vanish, then are our moral rules any more than the rules of a club?

With all due respect to Prof. Marino, the antecedent of that question is tendentious. According to naturalism, I and a rock both consist of molecules in motion. But naturalism doesn't imply that there are no important differences -- including objectively important differences -- between me and the rock. Even though naturalism says that I consist of molecules in motion, it doesn't say that all agglomerations of molecules in motion are objectively the same: it doesn't say that I'm only molecules in motion, in the reductive sense of "only" implied by the antecedent. As to naturalism's prediction that humanity and its traces will one day be gone: Why must humanity or its traces go on forever in order for anything to be objectively right or wrong? I've never seen a good answer to that question.

Several recent writers have responded intelligently to the question italicized above. I recommend this article and (again) this edited collection.

You seem to be asking an empirical (psychological or sociological) question: Besides enlightened self-interest, what actually motivates atheists to behave morally? The best answer to that question will come from systematic empirical research. I don't know of any, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could find some on the web. As for what motivates particular atheists to behave morally, you might consult this collection edited by Louise M. Antony, one of the Panelists on this site. You wrote that the belief "that there is something greater than the self, of which we are a part ... seems to me only to make sense in a spiritual tradition" of the kind that atheists reject. In my reply to Question 5607 , I argued against treating the term "atheist" as implying a lack of regard for anything but gratifying one's own ego: the term simply doesn't have that implication. I see no reason why an atheist shouldn't believe that some things are worth a degree of self-sacrifice. Indeed, some philosophers...

If we are only molecules in motion and a few hundred thousand years from now, the world and history will vanish, then are our moral rules any more than the rules of a club? With all due respect to Prof. Marino, the antecedent of that question is tendentious. According to naturalism, I and a rock both consist of molecules in motion. But naturalism doesn't imply that there are no important differences -- including objectively important differences -- between me and the rock. Even though naturalism says that I consist of molecules in motion, it doesn't say that all agglomerations of molecules in motion are objectively the same: it doesn't say that I'm only molecules in motion, in the reductive sense of "only" implied by the antecedent. As to naturalism's prediction that humanity and its traces will one day be gone: Why must humanity or its traces go on forever in order for anything to be objectively right or wrong? I've never seen a good answer to that question. Several recent writers have...

There seems to be a popular form of virtual atheism where the person says: I don

There seems to be a popular form of virtual atheism where the person says: I don't believe in god, but I don't accept that 'everything is permitted.' And then they grin in an idiotic way. If 'everything is permitted' means exactly the same thing as there are no laws but man made laws, what can they mean? All laws are arbitrary unless they where given by some power from above, or if the very universe is 'good.' What else can they mean? If it is some kind of conditioned response or Freudian figure (which leads to the belief in goodness and guilt), that is ultimately based on meaningless phylogenetic antecedents. So if someone says that don't they just mean they don't like to admit morals are meaningless or radically arbitrary? Perhaps because they are confused.

You seem to be arguing for this claim: Atheism implies that everything is morally permissible.

In the view of many philosophers, myself included, that claim is false. These philosophers argue that objective truths about moral right and wrong not only needn't be God-made (or man-made) but couldn't be God-made (or man-made). I recommend reading Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality," and Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism".

On the issue of whether all laws require a lawgiver, please see my response to Question 5619.

You seem to be arguing for this claim: Atheism implies that everything is morally permissible. In the view of many philosophers, myself included, that claim is false. These philosophers argue that objective truths about moral right and wrong not only needn't be God-made (or man-made) but couldn't be God-made (or man-made). I recommend reading Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality," and Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism" . On the issue of whether all laws require a lawgiver, please see my response to Question 5619 .

Greetings. My four-year-old daughter asked why she could not "see" god. My

Greetings. My four-year-old daughter asked why she could not "see" god. My response at the time was something like the following. God is one without a second and undifferentiated. For one to "see" something it is necessary to distinguish that object from others. God has no other from which it can be distinguished as separate and distinct. Abstract, yes, but at least I avoided using terms like "transcendant", etc. I wanted to give her a thoughtful answer even if hard to grasp. How did I do?

I confess I have trouble grasping the answer you gave. You wrote, "God has no other from which it can be distinguished as separate and distinct," which seems to imply that God isn't distinguishable from you or from anything else there is. Did you mean to give your daughter the impression that you and your left shoe are both indistinguishable from God? I presume not. Now, on some views God just is the whole of reality, but even on those views it seems that God would be distinct from any proper part of reality such as you or your left shoe.

Why not say, instead, that according to various religious traditions God is a non-physical, spiritual being and therefore not the kind of being that we can expect to see or otherwise perceive with our physical senses?

I confess I have trouble grasping the answer you gave. You wrote, "God has no other from which it can be distinguished as separate and distinct," which seems to imply that God isn't distinguishable from you or from anything else there is. Did you mean to give your daughter the impression that you and your left shoe are both indistinguishable from God? I presume not. Now, on some views God just is the whole of reality, but even on those views it seems that God would be distinct from any proper part of reality such as you or your left shoe. Why not say, instead, that according to various religious traditions God is a non-physical, spiritual being and therefore not the kind of being that we can expect to see or otherwise perceive with our physical senses?

There is this theistic meta-ethical view according to which there can be evils

There is this theistic meta-ethical view according to which there can be evils in the world only if there is an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god that is the ‘ground’ for the distinction between good and evil. On this theistic meta-ethical view, doesn't it seem that there is something incoherent in the attempt to argue from the relevant premises in arguments from evil to the conclusion that there is no orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god? Asserting "evil exists" seems to prove the existence of god and make the problem of evil self-refuting.

If the distinction between good and evil depended on God's existence, then -- yes -- there would be something wrong with arguing from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God. For if (a) the existence of evil logically implies the existence of God, then (b) the existence of evil logically implies the non-existence of God only if the existence of evil is impossible.

But let me emphasize that the metaethical view you referred to is itself highly questionable, if not just incoherent. For arguments to that effect, see Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality"; Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism"; and Russ Shafer-Landau, Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?.

If the distinction between good and evil depended on God's existence, then -- yes -- there would be something wrong with arguing from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God. For if (a) the existence of evil logically implies the existence of God, then (b) the existence of evil logically implies the non-existence of God only if the existence of evil is impossible . But let me emphasize that the metaethical view you referred to is itself highly questionable, if not just incoherent. For arguments to that effect, see Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality" ; Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism" ; and Russ Shafer-Landau, Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? .

I believe that God is the greatest conceivable being, and I also came to believe

I believe that God is the greatest conceivable being, and I also came to believe again, having been a former agnostic, that He really exists. My question is regarding the responses of some atheists to some traditional arguments for God's existence, most especially to the design argument, that for these designs in nature, we should not remove the possibility of a finite god, an evil god, or many gods who designed our universe. I think all those opinions are false because being the greatest conceivable being God cannot be finite or evil and there cannot be two greatest conceivable beings. But I just wonder why should God be the greatest conceivable being. Is it not possible for there to be a God or gods who are finite and/or evil and leave it at that?

Stephen is right. We should distinguish the Design Argument from the Ontological Argument. Your question concerns neither. Your question is about the Problem of Evil, so called. How can a being who is all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing allow evil to exist? The simplest way to solve this problem is to deny one of these three propositions, and it is perfectly acceptable to deny the second: God's power is limited. This approach is taken by process theologians, who say that God is developing. For the typical process theologian, as for the Mormon, God cannot break the laws of nature, for example. The trouble with this solution is not that it does not work for the theist. The problem is that it does not work for the traditional Christian theist, and as far as I know also for the Jewish and Muslim theist. A god with limited powers is simply not recognizable as the Creator of the Universe, the Father Almighty, and so on. So the solution is logically acceptable, but theologically unacceptable.

It looks to me as if you may be conflating two different arguments (or types of argument) for the existence of God: (1) the Ontological Argument and (2) the Design Argument. As you say, one objection to the Design Argument is that the universe might -- for all the Design Argument shows -- be the creation of a finite, or evil, or incompetent god, or the product of a committee of such gods. You propose to answer that objection by insisting that God is the greatest conceivable being, and therefore God is neither finite, nor evil, nor incompetent, nor equalled by some other god. But why should we grant that God is the greatest conceivable being? To establish that conclusion, you need something like St. Anselm's Ontological Argument, about which you'll find more in this SEP entry . If you reply that God is by definition the greatest conceivable being, then we need a reason to believe that this definition is in fact fulfilled , i.e., that something in fact answers...

The reason that Pascal's Wager doesn't seem convincing to me is that to me it

The reason that Pascal's Wager doesn't seem convincing to me is that to me it seems that you can't assign a probability to something that doesn't have any empirical evidence. So all gods seems equally improbable. And so I would be equally likely to suffer eternal torture if I chose Islam, Mormonism or nothing. Although on further thought, I don't feel so sure any more, largely because of the same reasoning that lead me to the question I'm about to ask. But, after I read the thought experiment "Roko's Basilisk," it seems to me that you could also make a Pascal's Wager-style proposition without metaphysical claims, one that would involve probabilities. Something along the lines of this: Biologists know a lot about the human body. Those that know a lot about the human body are more likely to have the capabilities to torture me for eternity. Those that are more likely to have the capabilities to torture me for eternity are more likely to torture me for eternity. If I go spend time near biologists it is...

I am much more familiar ... with human (or human-like) beings who lust after young peasant women than I am with ones for whom the very experience of lust is unimaginable ...

To say nothing of the doctrine, central to one of the major monotheistic religions, that God became a flesh-and-blood human being while somehow remaining an omnipresent and perfect spirit who continued to rule the universe. It's hard to see how the Zeus story is "significantly less plausible" than that!

I am much more familiar ... with human (or human-like) beings who lust after young peasant women than I am with ones for whom the very experience of lust is unimaginable ... To say nothing of the doctrine, central to one of the major monotheistic religions, that God became a flesh-and-blood human being while somehow remaining an omnipresent and perfect spirit who continued to rule the universe. It's hard to see how the Zeus story is "significantly less plausible" than that!

Religious people often claim that human rights must come from God. It seems to

Religious people often claim that human rights must come from God. It seems to me that they could be wrong about their claim because of the objection posed by the Euthyphro dilemma. Am I right about this? Can we have a solid grounding of human rights even if there is no God?

For what it's worth, I'm confident that you're right: moral rights needn't come from God. On the issues raised by the Euthyphro dilemma, let me suggest that you start with the SEP entries linked here and here.

As for human rights properly so-called, I'd urge you to question that concept for the reasons that I gestured at in my answers to Question 5602 and Question 5402.

For what it's worth, I'm confident that you're right: moral rights needn't come from God. On the issues raised by the Euthyphro dilemma, let me suggest that you start with the SEP entries linked here and here . As for human rights properly so-called, I'd urge you to question that concept for the reasons that I gestured at in my answers to Question 5602 and Question 5402 .

Isn't evil prove that God exist ?

Isn't evil prove that God exist ? 1. Evil exists. 2. Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. 3. If there is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be. 4. Therefore, there is a way things ought to be. 5. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things. 6. If there is a design plan for things, then there must be a Designer. 7. Therefore, there must be a Designer. If the universe is the product of chance as opposed to intelligence, then there is no design or purpose built into the universe. Since one can rationally apply a standard of goodness to an object only if that object was designed with the purpose of meeting that standard, isn't evil which itself is a deviation from that standard of goodness prove that God exist?

Thanks for the interesting argument. I'd challenge premise (5) for starters. Not all normative truths require a designer or decree-giver. Consider this valid form of reasoning: P and Q; therefore, P. That form is a way that people ought to reason (and fortunately, most do). Or consider this invalid form of reasoning: If P, then Q; not P; therefore, not Q. That form is a way that people ought not to reason (even though, unfortunately, they sometimes do). Who decreed that it ought, or ought not, to be that way? Who designed that? Answer: No one. Or at least we needn't assume that anyone did.

Indeed, if "P and Q; therefore, P" is a way people ought to reason only because someone designed things that way, that suggests (and perhaps even implies) that someone could have designed things so that "P and Q; therefore, P" was a way people ought not to reason, or so that "If P, then Q; not P; therefore, not Q" was a way people ought to reason. But those suggestions (or implications) make no sense, as far as I can see.

Granted, my example involves logical norms rather than moral norms, but I can't see how that difference rescues premise (5).

Thanks for the interesting argument. I'd challenge premise (5) for starters. Not all normative truths require a designer or decree-giver. Consider this valid form of reasoning: P and Q; therefore, P. That form is a way that people ought to reason (and fortunately, most do). Or consider this invalid form of reasoning: If P, then Q; not P; therefore, not Q. That form is a way that people ought not to reason (even though, unfortunately, they sometimes do). Who decreed that it ought, or ought not, to be that way? Who designed that? Answer: No one. Or at least we needn't assume that anyone did. Indeed, if "P and Q; therefore, P" is a way people ought to reason only because someone designed things that way, that suggests (and perhaps even implies) that someone could have designed things so that "P and Q; therefore, P" was a way people ought not to reason, or so that "If P, then Q; not P; therefore, not Q" was a way people ought to reason. But those suggestions (or implications) make no sense, as...

Pages