Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Christian offers a psychopathic defense of morality

A Facebook friend recently introduced me to the writings of one Matthew Archbold, blogger for the National Catholic Register. Let's just say that he's no St. Thomas Aquinas.

In his post "Atheists Love You. They Just Don't Know Why," Archbold tries to show that the moral thinking of atheists is somehow dependent on or presupposes his religion.

Archbold's target is Richard Dawkins' charitable website. The site was created in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti early this year. At that time, Dawkins wrote on the website that "When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow humans." Archbold had this to say about Dawkins' altruistic efforts:
If he’s helping people because he wants to help people then I almost hate to tell him that he’s kind of supporting some of our arguments. While Dawkins argues that he can be good without God, I think he’s actually only proving that Richard Dawkins can be good while not acknowledging God.

I have to wonder from what philosophical grounding does Dawkins’ altruism emanate? Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God? From what philosophical groundwork is he basing his good works on? Dawkins, it would seem to me, hasn’t defined his terms and is only borrowing our definition of “good.” Because without our definitions he’d have to ask the question, “What is good without God?” And that’s something I haven’t seen answered yet.

In fact, I think Dawkin’s efforts to do good is one of the best arguments for innate knowledge of right and wrong.

I almost hate to inform Mr. Dawkins that his little plot is actually helpful to believers as we believe that no matter what you espouse verbally each man has written on his soul the ability to tell right from wrong. And while Dawkins denies it, his actions indicate otherwise. There is a moral sense which you can ignore but your choosing to ignore or embrace it has no effect on its existence, much like God Himself.
Let's take Archbold's last point first. Archbold is clearly arguing that one cannot be good without God. In the third and fourth paragraphs, Archbold argues thus:
Human beings have an innate knowledge of right and wrong.
Therefore, no one can be good without God. 
This argument is obviously question-begging. For the conclusion does not follow without additional premises, which are (2) and (3) below:
  1. Human beings have an innate knowledge of right and wrong. 
  2. Only God can be the source of an innate knowledge of right and wrong.
  3. An innate knowledge of right and wrong is necessary to do good. 
  4. Therefore, no one can be good without God. 
Now, what reason has Archbold given the atheist to accept (2)? None. His readers will certainly accept it. But as a moral argument against atheism, this is a bush-league pile of shit, because it convinces only those who already agree with him.

In the second paragraph, Archbold asserts that God is the source of morality. The only argument he appears to give for this assertion is this: there is no other possible source of morality. Unfortunately, his lone premise is false. In Atheism: A Brief Insight (New York: Sterling, 2009), Julian Baggini writes:
[A]t the very root of morality is a kind of empathy or concern for the welfare of others, a recognition that their welfare also counts. This is, for most of us, a basic human instinct. Total indifference to the welfare of others is not normal human behavior, it is symptomatic of what we would normally call mental illness. Its most extreme form is that of the psychopath, who has no sense of the inner life of others at all. This recognition of the value of others is not a logical premise but a psychological one. If we accept it, then we have the starting point for all the thinking and reasoning about ethics that help us to make better decisions and become better people. But the truth of the premise, the fundamental conviction that others do count, is not something that can be demonstrated by logic. . . . Moral reasoning can only get going if we have a basic altruistic impulse to begin with (66). 
There is another possible source of morality: a basic altruistic impulse. Archbold would credit my possession of this impulse to a benevolent creator, but as we have seen, he has given us no reason whatsoever to believe that such a creator exists. The best evidence available to me that one can be good without God is that I actually am good without God. I am an atheist, and I and the atheists I know often have a greater capacity for morality than theists I know. And that is a fact.

The key statement Archbold makes is, "Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God?" The problem with Archbold's religion is that it is psychopathic. In his post, Archbold speculates that Dawkins' real motivations aren't exactly pure. Archbold writes, "If Dawkins is running this charity to show up religion and helping Haitians is only a secondary consequence then we could hardly claim that what he’s doing is good by most definitions." But notice this: when helping fellow human beings, Christians always have an ulterior motive, i.e., to do what pleases God. And Archbold seems to admit that this ulterior motive is actually their only motive, for if God does not exist, then they have no reason to help their fellow human beings at all.

The atheist helps her fellow human being whether it pleases anyone else or not, simply because it is the right thing to do. As Baggini writes,
[T]he average ethical atheist actually appears to have more moral merit than the average ethical religious believer. The reason for this is that religion, with its threat of punishment and promise of reward, introduces a nonmoral incentive to be moral that is absent in atheism (58).
Having such nonmoral, prudential reasons to be moral "appears to undermine morality rather than support it," writes Baggini. "Acting morally because it is in one's own best interest to do so does not seem to be acting morally at all" (63).

I believe that most Christians are not psychopaths. Their moral sense is as strong as mine or any atheist's. But Christians are being indoctrinated into accepting a psychopathic philosophy of morality, according to which the only reason they have to do what they know is right is that God has commanded them to. That, combined with atrophied or non-existent critical thinking skills, can produce psychopathic behavior.

If there is one thing that disgusts me these days, it's theists who complain that they are oppressed and yet attack atheists with pseudo-intellectual garbage. Archbold doesn't know the first thing about philosophical groundings. He should leave the philosophy to the experts.

Update. Denying that morality is grounded in religion does not entail that God does not exist. God, rather than being the creator of morality, would instead be an infallible detector or discoverer of it. Even though I am an atheist, I have not argued for atheism here. Even theists can therefore endorse my objections to Archbold's amateurish post.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson