“If God does not exist then everything would be permitted.”
Believers are touting this as a way to infuriate atheists – and it does, but not in the way that believers would like.
The statement is not infuriating statement, it’s an ineffective claim with no basis whatsoever.
On its face, the claim effectively infantilizes humans and reflects a deep self loathing and no self esteem on the part of the claimant. We are capable of determining what’s acceptable or not on our own – and every civilization has done so – and so does every human.
The quoted claim – from a Dostoevsky novel – is one of the most intellectually dishonest claims a person can make; and that is what makes it frustrating. It’s not right, it’s a lie that believers tell themselves. It’s a plea for special consideration, appeal to vague authority and probably a half dozen other fallacies.
Believers are simply not honest enough to say “this is what I think,” instead, they invent an external god as a divine authority for whatever they then claim that god says is moral or ethical or okay or unacceptable.
This is plainly evident from the spectrum of morals and ethics not only between each distinct religion, but also within the variations within the religion. Christianity includes Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, United, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran and more flavours and with each variety further seasoned with fundamental, reform, orthodox. Even Christianity isn’t monolithic and united in what’s moral or at least, what’s moral right now.
Anyone who is not able to be in a situation or consider a hypothetical situation and make a determination of what the best and worst courses of action/response are, is admitting that they are not moral or ethical.
If you have to resort to an external source of morals, ethics and values, then how exactly is that person in a position to determine if that external source is moral or ethical?
Following a list of rules to obtain reward or avoid punishment is no different from a single cell organism responding to stimulus.
I rejected claims for a deity when I was twelve years old. That’s the sum total of what an atheist is – a rejection of the claim for a deity.
In the 32 years since that time, I have not murdered, assaulted or raped anyone. And while there’s been a few times that assault was tempting, it was never as a first strike or problem solving – it was a responsive action to defend myself or another person.
The threat of punishment is not a deterrent. Because prison is not always a consequence of violent or anti-social behaviour. To go to prison, you have to be caught. That isn’t always possible, even with the state of forensics.
Even if you are caught, there’s still the matter of the trial, mitigating circumstances, time off for good behaviour or time served pending trial. That’s assuming the case against you isn’t lost on a technicality. Prison is not a deterrent because there’s too many unknown variables to make a risk assessment.
Which is where that conservative belief that prison is a deterrent falls down. People rarely make risk assessments; and, in fact, risk assessments like any rationalization, comes after the decision is made.
The way that we function is that a decision is made and we rationalize it afterwards to be acceptable within our belief, values and ethical framework.
That is the heart of the difference between a believer and a non-believer – believers cling to an external rationalization for their behaviour; while non-believers don’t pretend that decisions are anything but our own.
It is as if believers do not accept personal accountability – which, since they demand it in others, it makes sense.
We tend to dislike those who embody a characteristic that we lack. Which is why homophobes hate gay people – we’re not afraid of our sexuality, we embrace it.
Aside: I don’t dislike believers, I dislike what they do. (See how phony that sounds – you can’t separate the sin from the sinner) – in reality, I think that what I am jealous of and why I dislike believers is their sense of certainty in a world where certainly doesn’t seem possible.
It seems to come down to anyone who is overly concerned with what other people are doing, are concerned because of their internal baggage. They can’t believe that other people do not feel or think or believe as they do, so they demand conformity to what they are publically claiming that they are: usually heterosexual, monogamous, charitable and compassionate – when more often than not, they are deep closet homosexual, adulterous, embezzling and uncaring towards their fellow humans. Especially those humans who do not conform.
After all, we all have access to the same information upon which to base decisions and conclusions – so it must be that believers are intimidated and have low self esteem when other people arrive at a different conclusion.
I had an experience recently that woke me up to this idea that people are threatened when other people have the same information but arrive at a different conclusion.
I was on the street and a woman about half my age was asking for time to talk about a charity. I stopped to talk because the groups’ name caught my ear, but I hadn’t understood what the group was about.
She explained that the group was raising money for the education of women in third world countries with the goal of reducing the number of children the women had.
I thought about how simplistic and even naïve her understanding was, so I explained that I had read the report from the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference – http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/declar.htm – which drew a completely blank stare from the girl.
I explained that of course education was the only way to explain why the strategy of birthing 6 children so that 2 would live to adulthood was not sustainable, how educated women with fewer children improve the Gross National Product and improves the local economy and the many other benefits of educated women with enshrined and protected civil rights mean.
I explained to her that education was solving the wrong problem; and that the bigger problem is global overpopulation.
And, the solution to overpopulation is to do nothing and let the population levels sort themselves out.
Much like shooting wolves does not increase the caribou, elk and moose population – reducing infant mortality to a survivable level will only result in a longer term net increase in population, not the decrease that is desperately needed.
Any move towards ensuring increasing population is a move towards mass extinction. Which, in a way, also solves the problems that humanity faces, unfortunately, it means taking a lot of other species and habitat out with us.
But, in many ways, even that is inevitable, since there’s been at least 5 mass extinctions in Earth’s history that we know of.
The question is a matter of – do humans want as long a run as the dinosaurs, or are humans the comet? Short lived with a trail of destruction in our wake.
Mass extinctions rather neatly show that there’s no omnipotent god. Or, at least, not one that is remotely concerned with mere humans and what we individually do or not do with our genitals.
But the question is can we really be good without a god to guide us?
Given the public response to the mass disaster crisis in Japan – astonishing civil order, lack of looting and sharing of resources even when it means making du with less so that everyone has at least some – yes.
Clearly, we can not only be good without god – we can behave extraordinarily well without the idea of a deity.