atheism problem morality jeff durbin

Jeff Durbin analyzes three responses to the problem of morality that atheism has. Generally speaking, atheists suggest that their basis for morality is either 1) preference, 2) societal convention, or 3) the desire to survive and flourish. Learn the problems with these proposed solutions to the problem of morality.

Video Transcript

So the atheist has very limited options, and this is actually very exciting. Okay, the atheist has limited options available.

Atheist Foundations – Bag of Biological Stuff

So, the atheist has his foundations. He believes that he’s come from—and I borrowed this from Dr. (Sofrate?)—fish to philosopher, from the goo to you. I absolutely love that he says that so I took that from him. You’re welcome.

So, that’s that’s his view of origins. And so now, they have to create a complex ethical system as a bag of biological stuff. And so they have very limited options.

1. Preference

So, what they’re limited to is they can ultimately say, “Well, I feel like that’s wrong.” And so, here’s their ethical system: it’s preference.

So, your preference is you feel like you shouldn’t murder another human being or you shouldn’t steal from this person. So, your preference is, “I don’t like to do that.”

But here’s the thing. You’re not in charge of the guy who does like to kill people, who does like to rape, who does like to steal. You’re not an authority in his life. Your preference has no power and authority in his life.

So, you can’t create an ethical system off of mere preferences. People have different preferences. That’s why we have jails. Because there are lots of people who prefer certain activities and behaviors over others and we know where we put those people. They prefer it. They want to do it.

2. Societal Convention

Or, the atheist can say, “Well, our ethical system is based upon societal convention.” So, society determines what is right, what is wrong, what is immoral. So, they’re limited to society will determine.

Okay, so if we grant the unbeliever the presupposition that society determines what is moral, then that means that Hitler wasn’t wrong. Germany wasn’t wrong. Because their society had determined by democratic votes that Hitler was in charge and that that’s not a person. I know it looks like a person. It’s not a person. It’s a Jew.

And in that case, if you say society determines what is right, what is wrong, and that’s the basis for ethics, then that means anybody who fought against slavery in the United States of America was immoral because society had determined it was fine and okay to capture people as slaves and to enslave them and to use them as human property.

And that means—watch, this is powerful—if society determines what is moral, then that means any society that has a person within it fighting for transformation within society on any level, the person fighting against that society is the immoral one. Why? Because Society has determined—what?— that we can kill Jews, that we can enslave black people, and anybody who argues with it is the immoral one.

Do you see if you say society determines what is moral then you are stuck with society changing morality over time and whatever evil is happening, you cannot war against it because Society has determined it, which means no social transformation to any degree really at any time.

3. Surviving and Flourishing

And so, the unbeliever is stuck with that: 1) societal convention, 2) personal preference, and 3) one more thing. When the unbeliever says, “Well, I have a basis for ethics: it’s what works to keep us alive.

We’ve determined that if you murder others, then we’re not going to flourish. We’ve determined if you steal from others, we’re not going to flourish. We determined if you rape others, we’re not going to flourish.

What’s the hidden assumption there? The borrowed capital from Christianity: human value and dignity, and that society should flourish. Because we must ask the unbeliever, we must ask them, “Are we Stardust?”

They say, “Oh yes, yes we’re Stardust.” Like Carl Sagan said, “We are Stardust.” Right? Neil deGrasse Tyson, he says, “We’re Stardust.”

Well, I’m going to ask you a question. What makes you think Stardust must flourish? What if I want to kerosene the whole anthill? Who are you to argue with me? You’re acting like Stardust should flourish and should produce and should do well.

I think there’s actually a lot of human suffering in the world and if we just ended it all, we would end a lot of human suffering. And there are actually a lot of people who think just like that. And you have no argument with them, no objective basis for morality.

All you have is preference, societal convention. That’s all you have, and when the unbeliever says, “I think society should flourish,” you should say, “Why should stardust flourish?” and, “Why are you picking this Stardust over this Stardust? Why are you saying that human beings should be the ones that flourish, who are the random results of evolutionary processes, and not dogs and snails and horses? Why aren’t you fighting for them? Why are you fighting for humans? You’re acting like humans are in the image of God.”


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