Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Antony-Good minus God

In this article, Antony brings up many of the same points we have discussed in class or read in Baggini. The main point she is trying to make is very similar, I think, to the one Baggini makes about morality and God. She brings up the Euthyprho argument once again, and I feel like we have throughly beaten that horse at this point. However, I think she brings some new things to the table in this discussion. So, I will quote directly the parts of the article which I personally think the most worth reading.

Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. It is to say that the historical connections we value, the traits of character and personality that we love — all count for nothing in themselves. Other people warrant our concern only because they are valued by someone else — in this case, God. (Imagine telling a child: “You are not inherently lovable. I love you only because I love your father, and it is my duty to love anything he loves.”)

What could make anyone think such things? Ironically, I think the answer is: the same picture of morality that lies behind atheistic nihilism. It’s the view that the only kind of “obligation” there could possibly be is the kind that is disciplined by promise of reward or threat of punishment. Such a view cannot find or comprehend any value inherent in the nature of things, value that could warrant particular attitudes and behavior on the part of anyone who can apprehend it. For someone who thinks that another being’s pain is not in itself a reason to give aid, or that the welfare of a loved one is not on its own enough to justify sacrifice, it is only the Divine Sovereign that stands between us and — as Hobbes put it — the war of “all against all.”

I want to close by conceding that there are things one loses in giving up God, and they are not insignificant. Most importantly, you lose the guarantee of redemption. Suppose that you do something morally terrible, something for which you cannot make amends, something, perhaps, for which no human being could ever be expected to forgive you. I imagine that the promise made by many religions, that God will forgive you if you are truly sorry, is a thought would that bring enormous comfort and relief. You cannot have that if you are an atheist. In consequence, you must live your life, and make your choices with the knowledge that every choice you make contributes, in one way or another, to the only value your life can have.

Some people think that if atheism were true, human choices would be insignificant. I think just the opposite — they would become surpassingly important.


  1. I completely agree with her conclusion. I think it is makes life far more interesting and quite frankly more worthwhile when one realizes the significance of every decision, and the power one utilizes in making them. In this way, one can actively shape who they want to be or the values they want to embody with their life, rather than simply following the specific guidelines of what a deity, or anyone else, says one should be.

  2. Agreed.

    As for the Euthyphro horse, are we flogging or just riding? It's an overly-familiar trope for philosophers, admittedly, but you'd be surprised how many "regular" folk have the hardest time grasping the simple point of Plato's question.

    One quibble with her formulation: you can't lose a guarantee you never had. But of course she means you lose false comfort, which (false or not) IS a comfort. That's why A.deB. wants temples for atheists: he shares B.Russell's pity for the human suffering & wants to help.

    And sell some books too.

  3. I think the saddest point of main-stream Christianity is that the fact that we have 'no worth in ourselves' is in fact the point to them. "No one is Good, no not one, all have fallen short of the glory of God." Christianity in particular amongst the mono-theistic religions developed into a real focus on guilt as motivation

  4. Yes, Jamie, I have to agree wholeheartedly.

    I'm working on a full review of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's journal of new arguments against atheism. I was looking forward to furthering my understanding and sharpening my skills on a completely new line of argument. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. Even though I don't agree with William Lane Craig's argument about the lack of objectivity without God, at least there is something there to intellectually untangle.

    Below are Biblical passages that provide a 'grounding' for Dembski's argument, which makes your point exactly:

    “We live in an increasingly secular culture, and as followers of Christ we have little choice but to debate atheists. Atheism is on the rise, and atheists cannot be avoided….Yet, I hope here to tie together certain key strands in the present debate between Christians and the new atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, etc.) as we seek to advance the truth of Christ to the wider culture.”

    Dembski begins his holy crusade by unearthing the Bible’s position regarding atheists and atheism. Dembski’s condemnation bears divine warrant sanctioned by both Jesus and God (the Holy Ghost is silent here), which the former characterized through the writings of Paul, specifically Romans 3:10-12, and finds further validation in Psalm 14 from the Old Testament. The quotes read respectively:

    There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10-12).

    The fool hath said in his heart, there is not God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no not, one. (Psalm 14)

    Dembski finds this evidence for the Biblical claim that none escape the divine wrath of God: neither Jews nor gentiles. He insists that this “repetition cannot be accidental.” Dembski further suggests that repetition in the “true word of God” only compounds the God’s seriousness regarding the matter. Ok, we get it, everyone is sinful, unworthy, damned, and filthy—everyone: babies, children, men, women, volunteers for the poor and needy, etc., and God is serious about this.

    I know that's the first thing I think of when I see a newborn baby in swaddling clothes—“Look at that filthy little bastard.”

  5. The majority of schools of ethics do not require a god to be existent within them. There's Rand and Stuart Mills's consequentialist ethics, both requiring no god, but simply a cost benefit analysis. There's Kant's ontological ethics, which rest solely on principle, and Nichomachean athics as well, which exist entirely on balance. I would say that from Euthyphro, the very notion of god corrupts and confuses the spirit of what might be "good."

  6. To clarify, I meant I agreed with the very last bit of text, I am with Dr. Oliver that you can't lose a guarantee that isn't there. I think the biggest problem I have with religion in general is that most of them belittle our human existence in this physical world. Whether we are immortal or not, whether there is a Heaven or not, the life we live on Earth is still tremendously special, important, and beautiful.