Over at CNSNews.com, we have an interesting article by Ben Shapiro explaining why atheism is a morally bankrupt system.
There’s only one problem: without God, there can be no moral choice. Without God, there is no capacity for free will.
That’s because a Godless world is a soulless world. Virtually all faiths hold that God endows human beings with the unique ability to choose their actions—the ability to transcend biology and environment in order to do good. Transcending biology and our environment requires a higher power—a spark of the supernatural. As philosopher Rene Descartes, put it, “Although … I possess a body with which I am very intimately conjoined … [my soul] is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.”
The main gist of the article than goes on to say that without a soul we are inherently bound to completely deterministic biology and so there is no free will and without free will there are no morals. Hence, God exists. Atheism is bad. Q.E.D. First, of course, he presents absolutely no evidence that a soul or God even exists to be a foundation of morals. Shapiro provides no evidence that that things are not deterministic. He simply asserts that determinism is bad, we need morals, so atheism is bad. He is also unaware that he is constructing a strawman in that not every atheist (in fact very few) is arguing for determinism and the demise of free will, although we do know that genetics and environmental factors can influence a person’s decisions. Of course, he doesn’t see the strawman, but I’m sure he believes that he is simply drawing inferences from a materialistic conception of the world. The problem is the inferences are not necessarily correct. Indeed, at a fundamental level, it may very well that there is some measure of determinism, although at the fundamental level we do have to deal with the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics. Of course, the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics is fairly predictable. We might not be able to determine momentum and position simultaneously with infinite precision, but we know precisely what the fundamental relationship of the uncertainties of the 2 quantities are. Everything is not as ad hoc and free as some might want to think.
But one does have to take into account chaos. There are limits as to how well we can measure things, and the imprecision can make a significant difference in future outcomes. When it comes to individuals and society additionally, there are simply too many variables to predict with any reasonable precision what individual choices will be in all cases. So for all pragmatic purposes, we can not treat all choices as if one really has no free will. Responsibility does not require behavior to be uncaused, but, rather for individuals to recognize that actions have consequences. It is up to society to provide the framework in which that happens and from within which one may take actions that have desirable (for the benefit of all, think the Prisoners Dilemma) consequences for all as a whole and within which actions having deletirious effects are in some way discouraged. An excellent foundation for morality is given by Ebonmusing at his The Ineffable Carrot and Infinite Stick essay.
But what morality does religion encourage? In the Christian religion, God is the sum total of all good morals. The source of morality. In the Bible, children who disobey their parent (or who curse them, talk back to them, etc.) are to be stoned to death. This is by the order of God, whose moral sense is unchanging. In a famous scene, God orders a man’s death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Now there are those who argue that the purpose of the commandments was to simply show us how imperfect we are and in need of salvation. Let me repeat: according to the story, God orders death by stoning to a guy for picking up sticks on the sabbath. There are, of course, many more examples of God’s abhorrent moral behavior, but these two will suffice for this argument. There are also those who argue that Jesus abrogated the need for many of the rules. He let an adulteress free, for example, and said that “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. All well and good, but that doesn’t negate the fact that according to God’s unchanging morals, death is considered an appropriate moral punishment for talking back to your parents or trying to gather firewood to keep warm on a cold Saturday. Let’s say that you, dear reader, are a Christian parent. Do you think stoning to death your child for getting drunk and talking back to you is moral? If your answer is negative, you are more moral than the God you worship.
No, if we really want to lead moral and ethical lives, the last place we should look to for an example is any sort of god. Deterministic or chaotic, it is still up to us to determine what kind of society we live in and what sorts of decisions to make. We should look to compassion and a means to minimize suffering while maximizing the happiness of all.