Bringing it Together: Atheism, Relativism and Tolerance

Friday, March 21, 2008 | Labels: , , | |

Yesterday's call to atheists was not a complex one, nor did it carry any underlying hatred towards atheists. It simply poised an important question to the atheist, "Can those who disbelieve in God respect those who do not?" or more importantly, "Ought those who do not believe in God respect those who do?" This is not a scientific question, it is a moral one.

To the naturalist, however, it is a silly question. In retrospect, perhaps I should have foreseen the kind of feedback received from yesterday's article. You see, if one embraces the scientific method alone in their judgment of reality - anything regarding faith, moral laws or any other ideas of moral realism are equivalent to, to borrow a phrase, a "flying spaghetti monster". The more I am witness too the more I understand that naturalists and the religious will have difficulties co-existing.

Naturalists will inevitably demand that all claims made by those who believe in moral realism be brought into their realm of testing. It is an interesting notion, almost equating to attempting to prove color exists in a world without color. The very rules of theorizing have changed when this shift occurs. They attempt bring the believer into their domain of moral skepticism and then destroy the believer's concepts. Let us tie together some concepts we went over these past two weeks with the experience we have witnessed over the past two days.

"I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. "

- C.S. Lewis, 'mere' Christianity, 1943

Lewis points to an interesting concept here. He was at one time an atheist, until he began to understand the pressing of 'oughts' and 'ought nots' on an individual when they are making decisions and after deep analyzation derived that these ideas must be coming from a governing Natural Law. Yesterday's request attests to this concept, such that if the atheist who is a moral skeptic, (suggesting that no individual has an innate pressure to defend what is right instead of wrong) then what is it that drives them to jump to their defense? This Natural Law does indeed exist in every individual, and it is not theorizable or testable by the scientific method.

"My generation has embraced a world of intellectual elitism. The "uneducated" are no longer in a position to determine that which is right and wrong. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," a principle espoused by our founding fathers and written in the United States Declaration of Independence can no longer exist, intellectual evidence now reigns supreme. "

- Craig Chamberlin, Modern Man has "Educated Himself to Imbecility", 2008

This still rings true. Moral skeptics are faced with an inevitable dilemma that contradicts even the principles espoused by our founding fathers. Even the founding fathers established that morality is an innate concept, apparent to every man, woman and child. Such ideas of a moral code separate from science completely destroys that naturalistic viewpoint. Each individual cannot determine what is right and wrong for society, right and wrong must be scientifically and empirically theorized and tested in its establishment. The duty of the establishing of what is best for society, therefore, is to be determined by the intellectually elite. This is why the most common argument one will see against the religious is "I don't mind if a man wants to believe in religion, just keep it out of the state and laws."

This, my friends, is indeed religious intolerance. It posits the ideas of moral skepticism (that no one has any knowledge of morality and science is the only method to establish right and wrong) is superior to every individual who believes the contrary. Each man cannot determine what is right and wrong for himself, ergo, society cannot determine what is right and wrong for itself. You see, if all moral right and wrong must be filtered through the scientific method - truths are no longer "self-evident". Without each individual being able to derive moral truths for themselves, this is not a republic any longer. It becomes a society where those with the greatest knowledge of scientifically filtered empirical evidence establish the truths for the rest of the world to follow.

"Ours is an age where ethics has become obsolete. It is superseded by science, deleted by philosophy and dismissed as emotive by psychology. It is drowned in compassion, evaporates into aesthetics and retreats before relativism.... we have actually begun to believe that the real guilty party, the one who somehow caused it all, is the victim, and not the perpetrator of the crime."

- Robert Fitch, Christianity and Crisis: A Journal of Opinion, 1959

The replacement of moral realism with moral skepticism began long before today. These ideas of ethics and good behaviors have become a product of physiological conditions. There are no "truths" anymore in the realm of the moral skeptic, it is all up in the air at each judgment. Therefore, science, philosophy and psychology are all used to establish scientifically filtered ethics that can emotionally justify that which those of us innately see sets a dangerous precedent.

"And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it."

- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1909

Yesterday, atheists on Digg were requested denounce their fellow atheists who espouse religious intolerance. This request carried with it a burden the atheist would have to face. To denounce their fellow atheists they would be required to adhere to a moral doctrine of what individuals ought and ought not to do. To do so is to undermine the very doctrine by which the majority of them embrace, one of moral skepticism. As expected, very few actual discouragement of intolerances were espoused. One should deeply applaud the few individuals who tried to appeal to the intellect of their fellow constituents, their efforts should not go unnoticed.

I had many comments demanding that this request be made to theists as well as atheists. Of course tolerance should be expected from both sides (this was even stated that in the original article), but why is it that when requested to denounce intolerance from atheists that they demand intolerance be denounced from theists? Is not the denunciation of intolerance something that should be espoused irregardless of the tolerances of the opposing party? In other words, if atheists on their own stand as tolerant individuals, should they not denounce intolerance whether theists denounce it or not? It is equivalent to saying, "my system is only tolerant when the opposing viewpoint is tolerant." This, in an of itself, is an intolerant system. Tolerance is defined as:

"a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry. " -

Those atheists of whom only espouse tolerance when they themselves are given tolerance are not, in fact, tolerant by its very definition. Tolerance is the fair, objective and permissive attitude toward the opposing viewpoint despite how tolerant or intolerant they may be. It is best illustrated in the realm of free speech. If a group of KKK individuals are protesting on the streets our society grants them tolerance, despite the group being intolerant. Thus, this law is a tolerant one, it does not base its tolerance on whether the opposing group is tolerant or not.

The subjects of atheism and moral relativism have been touched on rather adequately these past two weeks and there is still much else to discuss. The hope is that many individuals found these past few weeks insightful - and although many may now have the emotional scars of the battle of ideas, they should come out with a better understanding of both themselves and those of whom they disagree.

Craig Chamberlin