If God exists, then ethics is a sham.

Christians think that the presumption of absolute or universal moral principles or values is some kind of powerful argument for their side. They act on the basis of two implicit premises:

1. Without God, there are no absolute/universal moral principles.
2. With God, there are absolute/universal moral principles.

Both these premises are absolutely and completely false.

Let’s start with the second one. If God exists and created the universe, then all material facts, including ethics, are contingent on God’s mind. Therefore, it cannot be the case that there are absolute moral principles; in fact, there cannot even be “objective” moral principles, since that would assume independence from minds. If everything is contingent on God’s mind, then everything is “subjective,” that is to say, cannot be regulated by any principles or laws.

Or to rephrase the point more concretely: if God is in control of everything, then reality is whatever God decides. If God decides that murder is good or that the Sun does not move (as it does many times throughout the Bible), then murder is good and the Sun stops moving.

The belief that there is uniformity of nature, that is to say natural laws which are the subject of scientific inquiry, and the belief that there are absolute or universal moral principles, are absolutely contrary to this. If such laws and principles can be overridden at any time, then they are not laws or principles. They are merely subjective beliefs. If God can stop the Sun at any time, then the law of angular momentum does not exist. if God can make murder good at any time, then the principle that murder is wrong does not exist.

Not only that, but since God or its actions cannot be observed in any way by definition, if God exists we must be plunged in fundamental epistemic anxiety. If I seriously believed God existed, I would have no grounds to believe anything to be true or false, since it is on the basis of these natural laws and universal moral principles that we decide whether something is true or false.

We see how little guidance Christians receive from this so-called moral authority in their struggle to impose their vision of what they think God’s rules are on each other. If it was true that Christians had access to absolute morality, why would they disagree? How could they possibly disagree? People don’t argue on whether the Sun exists, because everyone can see the Sun very clearly. People don’t argue on whether the Earth exists. People don’t argue on whether air exists. But not even committed, honest Christians can agree on what this absolute morality is about, even though such an absolute morality, if it existed, would be as salient in a person’s life as the Sun, the Earth, and the air they breathe!

It is obvious that even Bible fundamentalists adhere first and foremost to a personal standard, because what they accept as literally true in the Bible changes depending on the era. When slavery was commonplace, fundamentalists readily accepted the verses about slavery to be literally true. Nowadays, they claim the verses about slavery applied to the times they were written for, not modern times. So much for the “absolute truth” of the Bible: it can’t even stand the test of time, let alone that of some pretty basic rational inquiry.

When challenged on the fundamental subjectivism of Christianity, Christians answer that God cannot change good ethical rules because it can’t help but be good: being good is part of its very nature. here are so many things wrong with this argument that I won’t get into all of them in this entry (I’ve listed seven fatal problems with it on my Strong Atheism article on Materialist Apologetics). It is an often-repeated, and completely bankrupt, argument.

I will address one problem with this answer, which is sufficient to demolish it: it is absolutely irrelevant to the issue. The Christian is not denying or refuting the fact that morality becomes subjective if God creates it, he is only specifying the nature of that subjectivity.

So he is in fact supporting that statement of subjectivity. Once the Christian admits that morality is not absolute or universal but in fact entirely subjectively based on God’s will, he has lost the argument, as well as any rights to debate any further, because he has plunged his worldview into complete and total subjectivism. From this point forward, he can no longer make assertions of knowledge. He can no longer argue about what God’s nature, since he has just denied himself any possibility of knowing anything (any such line of reasoning can be easily defeated by asking “how do you know?”- in the absence of an epistemic foundation, the Christian has no grounds in trusting his senses or his reason).

Now on to the second point. I’ve already addressed the absurdity of the belief that atheism implies that morality doesn’t exist. This could only be the case if human nature was a blank slate, but it’s not. The fact is that evolution has armed us with a moral code with the (unconscious, non-designed) aim of genetic perpetuation. We know instinctively that it is wrong to kill people in our in-group and that it is good to help others in our in-group, not because God exists, but because our brain has been hardwired that way by evolution. All societies recognize these principles because all societies are composed of human beings, therefore they have the same general nature.

Going beyond that, we are also intelligent enough to establish more explicit and refined universal ethical principles. But the Christian can, perhaps understandably, ask whether there are ethical principles that exist apart from human beings. Doesn’t the fact that human beings come up with these principles make them as subjective as God’s will?

But this is to misunderstand the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. Obviously all knowledge comes from man’s mind, but not all knowledge is subjective. My knowledge of, say, the law of gravity pertains to an actual unchangeable fact, the fact that objects attract each other proportionally to their mass and inversely to the square of their distance. This is measurable and verifiable by others, regardless of what they believe. But suppose I daydream and imagine a giant slide, on which, while sliding, one may see anyone currently living that one wishes. I may accumulate any amount of imaginary and coherent facts about this giant slide, but it will forever remain subjective, as no one else can observe it for themselves.

Because I believe in a material universe governed by unchanging laws, I can make any number of objective statements. I have no anxiety over the accuracy of inductive or deductive methods, because I have no reason to have such anxiety. I do not turn over in bed worried that the Earth might stop in its orbit, because unlike the lunatic Christians who believe Joshua 10, I do not hold to any belief that some force outside of the universe might brandish its magic wand and magically stop the Earth. Of course Christians also believe that the Earth will not stop in its orbit, but they are wrong in believing so.

It is precisely the non-existence of God that makes ethics even possible in the first place. Otherwise all we have, and all we had when organized religion was dominant, is a might-makes-right non-ethics, where the one who wins the wars or converts the most people makes the rules, with God assumed to be at the top of the pyramid because of its infinite potential to kill and damn, and lesser kings and priests down from there.

The end product of ethics should be a society that puts into action all the greatest values of human beings, and this is not what we have today, or have ever had. For the human species to survive and for all that is good about humans to persist and flourish, we need to think carefully about the values we wish to pursue with our actions and our institutions, and religious belief is the exact opposite of this. Religious belief teaches children (and the resulting “adults” who grow up thinking and acting like children) that they cannot decide for themselves, that they are innately evil, and that they must bow down to higher authorities. This part of human evolution, that is to say organized religion and religious “education,” has always led, and will continue to lead, to slaughter unless we utterly smash it and convert or destroy all its proponents.

34 thoughts on “If God exists, then ethics is a sham.

  1. Roderick T. Long July 17, 2011 at 21:30

    “If God exists and created the universe, then all material facts, including ethics, are contingent on God’s mind.”

    That doesn’t seem to follow. The proposition “If there were human beings, it would be wrong for them to kill each other” would be true whether or not God created human beings. And even if all facts depend on God, it doesn’t follow that all facts depend on God’s will.

    • Francois Tremblay July 17, 2011 at 22:03

      Not following you how it would be true. What sort of objective evidence could you invoke, when there would be no such thing as objective evidence?

      • Roderick T. Long July 18, 2011 at 10:27

        Why would there be no objective evidence? (Again, see the link.)

        • Francois Tremblay July 18, 2011 at 11:29

          Because there is no such thing as objective evidence in a God-run universe.

  2. Srikant July 18, 2011 at 03:24

    I feel Westerner bloggers feel constrained between just Christianity and atheism.

    I try to offer some alternative in my blog (linked to).

    On this particular post: Yes, if there’s just one supreme force, whatever it likes will be encouraged, whatever it dislikes will be discouraged, so it’s favouritism, not “ethics” taking place.

    • Francois Tremblay July 18, 2011 at 11:30

      I don’t feel “constrained,” because atheism is not an “alternative.” It’s just an opening of the door. I think my blog presents an intellectually viable alternative.

      • Srikant July 18, 2011 at 21:28

        Hmm, OK. I understand.

        Nonetheless, being exposed to the line of thinking of different cultures could help. I haven’t seen Western bloggers write voraciously or deeply about Buddhism or Islam. Not that there aren’t exceptions: take a look at this: http://antinatalismo.blogspot.com/2011/04/buddhism-and-antinatalism.html

        It is tantalising to see how close Buddhism has come to philanthropic antinatalism, but somehow stopped short of it. Many Jains and some ancient Hindus, too, have gone quite close.

        Sometimes, it’s almost as if Christianity is a metonym http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com/2011/06/political-metonymy.html for religion or indoctrination. Western atheists often seem to go against things JUST because Christianity includes or encourages them. The debate seems to always be between Christianity and Atheism. Many people seem to feel that if they demonstrate Christianity to be rubbish, they’ve really proven the values of atheism.

        I might have crossed some lines here. I don’t intend any of this personally, and I absolutely don’t want to forego the company of the precious few fellow antinatalists I have found.

        • Francois Tremblay July 18, 2011 at 21:40

          You’re not foregoing anything. In fact, I didn’t even know about you until today. So welcome! Come by the chat room sometime.

          I can’t prove the value of atheism because there is no such thing. If any value exists, it is the value of freethinking. And that’s absolutely necessary to get to all the good stuff like antinatalism. But “atheism” is not necessary for anything.

  3. Karl July 18, 2011 at 07:26

    Francois, I’m curious. If you’re an antinatalist, how can you say “For the human species to survive and for all that is good about humans to persist and flourish, we need to think carefully about the values we wish to pursue with our actions and our institutions…” Surely an antinatalist doesn’t want the species to survive, persist or flourish?

    • David Gendron July 18, 2011 at 08:37

      Antinatalism in a anarchist perspective doesn’t mean that that kind of anti-natalists want to extinguish the human species in a anarchist setting.

    • Francois Tremblay July 18, 2011 at 11:01

      A fair point, but I don’t want the human race to exterminate itself in horrible suffering. I’d rather the human race leave the scene gracefully. To do so, we need to get through the Collapse without massive chaos and death. This seems unfortunately unlikely.

  4. David Gendron July 18, 2011 at 08:36

    Antinatalism in a anarchist perspective doesn’t mean that that kind of anti-natalists want to extinguish the human species in a anarchist setting.

    • Francois Tremblay July 18, 2011 at 11:02

      Well, the point is, Anarchism is an attempt to reduce suffering caused by socio-political means. And that’s valuable. But that alone is useless if we have to keep chasing a higher and higher population which generates more and more suffering. Antinatalism is ultimately necessary to make any attempt at lowering suffering successful.

  5. flannigan July 18, 2011 at 13:32

    I won’t say I don’t believe in God, but he certainly is an underachiever.

  6. estnihil July 18, 2011 at 14:44

    Great article. I personally believe that if Christians had any idea what their own concepts of God imply, the Bible would either be discarded entirely, or screenwriters would rush to make low budget horror movies out of its content. A powerful creature, beyond human understanding, who decides its own morality and is not bound by our scientific principles – that sounds like something out of a H.P Lovecraft story, does it not?

    • Francois Tremblay July 18, 2011 at 20:17

      Well, H.P. Lovecraft’s stuff is actually scary… but yes.

  7. Karl July 19, 2011 at 06:58

    Francois, I’m planning on writing a piece on a topic related to this piece for my own blog soon, but there are a couple of points I’d like to make.
    1. You write “The fact is that evolution has armed us with a moral code with the (unconscious, non-designed) aim of genetic perpetuation. We know instinctively that it is wrong to kill people in our in-group and that it is good to help others in our in-group, not because God exists, but because our brain has been hardwired that way by evolution. All societies recognize these principles because all societies are composed of human beings, therefore they have the same general nature.”
    Isn’t this an example of the natural fallacy? Evolution has resulted in humans and human societies developing in a certain way. That doesn’t necessarily imply that those paths have been “moral” in the sense that anyone recognises what we mean by “moral”. The majority of societies have evolved due to radical discrimination between their members and others, the use of force, monopolising natural resources and so on. There is nothing objectively moral about this. And again, an antinatalist can hardly regard genetic perpetuation as a moral good.

    2. Because I believe in a material universe governed by unchanging laws, I can make any number of objective statements. I have no anxiety over the accuracy of inductive or deductive methods, because I have no reason to have such anxiety.

    Science has always been a provisional body of knowledge, subject to constant falsification and revision. Think of the gap between Newtonian and Quantum mechanics, for example. I really don’t see how science can provide a feeling of epistemic certainty.

    On a more general level, I believe the hope that people will converge on universal values is a mistaken one. Yes, there are certain universal evils that everyone desires to avoid: murder, rape, starvation, homelessness etc. But once those needs are taken care of, the game is open for the creation of positive, subjective values. History teaches us that people’s values are determined almost entirely by their local, ethnic, religious and national identities. The idea of a universal civilisation strikes me as highly unlikely, to say the least.

    Furthermore, antinatalists are unlikely (to put it mildly) to ever win a moral consensus, so the idea of a universal civilisation converging on the goal voluntary extinction for the human race is in essence a fantasy. If antinatalism is a strong value, then problems of consent and severe ethical clashes are inevitable.

    Isn’t this an example of the natural fallacy? Evolution has meant that human beings have evolved in a certain manner. That manner need notr necessarily

    • Francois Tremblay July 19, 2011 at 12:59

      “Francois, I’m planning on writing a piece on a topic related to this piece for my own blog soon”
      Very good!

      “Isn’t this an example of the natural fallacy? Evolution has resulted in humans and human societies developing in a certain way. That doesn’t necessarily imply that those paths have been “moral” in the sense that anyone recognises what we mean by “moral”.”
      What I am saying is that it’s where our moral intuitions start from. I would say that if you don’t agree that murder, maiming or fraud is immoral, then we can’t really agree on what morality is at a fundamental level. But I don’t believe that our intuitions alone make morality; intuition does not a truth make.

      “The majority of societies have evolved due to radical discrimination between their members and others”
      Which is why I clearly stated “in-group.” But there is a trend in history to keep enlarging the in-group. Hopefully someday the “in-group” will be all sentient life.

      “the use of force, monopolising natural resources and so on. There is nothing objectively moral about this. And again, an antinatalist can hardly regard genetic perpetuation as a moral good.”
      When did I say I did?

      “Science has always been a provisional body of knowledge, subject to constant falsification and revision. Think of the gap between Newtonian and Quantum mechanics, for example. I really don’t see how science can provide a feeling of epistemic certainty.”
      I didn’t say anything about science. What makes you jump there? But even science is impossible without the assumption of uniformity of nature. You know that, right?

      “On a more general level, I believe the hope that people will converge on universal values is a mistaken one. Yes, there are certain universal evils that everyone desires to avoid: murder, rape, starvation, homelessness etc. But once those needs are taken care of, the game is open for the creation of positive, subjective values. History teaches us that people’s values are determined almost entirely by their local, ethnic, religious and national identities. The idea of a universal civilisation strikes me as highly unlikely, to say the least.”
      That’s fine. There’s no point in debating that anyway.

      “Furthermore, antinatalists are unlikely (to put it mildly) to ever win a moral consensus, so the idea of a universal civilisation converging on the goal voluntary extinction for the human race is in essence a fantasy. If antinatalism is a strong value, then problems of consent and severe ethical clashes are inevitable.”
      What of it? There’s no point in trying to predict the future.

  8. Karl July 19, 2011 at 07:00

    The beginning lines of Point 2 are a quotation from you. Apologies for the absence of quotation marks.

    • Karl July 19, 2011 at 07:02

      And the last three lines after “are inevitable” shouldn’t be there. Damned Word! Apolgies once more!

  9. Karl July 20, 2011 at 04:38

    Francois, I still don’t think you’ve provided any grounds for establishing objective ethics. This is proven by your last statement: “This part of human evolution, that is to say organized religion and religious “education,” has always led, and will continue to lead, to slaughter unless we utterly smash it and convert or destroy all its proponents.”

    So basically you’re prepared to destroy those who won’t ever agreee with you. Hmmm, sounds like Old Testament ethics to me….

  10. Karl July 21, 2011 at 01:01

    Well, you may believe you’ve established objective ethics according to certain anarchist principles, but not everyone will agree.

    My point still stands that you’re advocating murdering those with religious beliefs who refuse to convert to your point of view. Two of the three headers on your blog say “Do not impose harm” and “Do not attack free agency”, both contradicted by your declaration of war on religious believers.

    • Francois Tremblay July 21, 2011 at 01:05

      “Well, you may believe you’ve established objective ethics according to certain anarchist principles, but not everyone will agree.”
      So what? Let them provide counter-arguments if they disagree.

      “My point still stands that you’re advocating murdering those with religious beliefs who refuse to convert to your point of view. Two of the three headers on your blog say “Do not impose harm” and “Do not attack free agency”, both contradicted by your declaration of war on religious believers.”
      So you claim. You have not provided a clear argument as to why religion does not impose harm.

  11. Karl July 22, 2011 at 00:39

    Blaming religion for all the ills of the world is just ridiculous. The problem is human nature and its functioning as an insatiable need machine. Religion is merely one example of how humans try to sate their need for purpose and meaning. And fundamentally you’re still ducking my point. Just because certain religious people cause harm to others doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to murder them. Why would anyone voluntarily subscribe to a system of ethics wherein those who disagree with its principles are murdered?

    • Francois Tremblay July 22, 2011 at 00:40

      When did I blame religion for all the ills of the world? Quote me saying that religion is responsible for all the ills of the world (not just some, but ALL), or get the fuck out, liar.

    • Srikant July 22, 2011 at 04:39

      Karl, I’m fairly sure Francois Tremblay doesn’t actually mean to murder all people who don’t subscribe to his views.

  12. Karl July 22, 2011 at 05:31

    Francois, I don’t think the vitriol helps. My core point is that in your response to my initial comment you said: “I would say that if you don’t agree that murder, maiming or fraud is immoral, then we can’t really agree on what morality is at a fundamental level.” This flagrantly contradicts your statement in the article that “organized religion and religious “education,” has always led, and will continue to lead, to slaughter unless we utterly smash it and convert or destroy all its proponents.”

    It’s a clear contradiction with pretty serious consequences for the conherence of your moral theory. I’m merely asking for clarification.

    • Francois Tremblay July 22, 2011 at 13:56

      All right, so you lied about what I said and now you won’t apologize. I’ve just banned you. Get the fuck off my blog, asshole.

  13. Srikant July 24, 2011 at 22:40

    Francois, I am unable to see any other meaning of “destroying” proponents of religion and religious education than murdering them.

    • Francois Tremblay July 24, 2011 at 23:10

      I did say “convert or destroy,” not “destroy.” Everyone should be given a chance to repent from their crimes.

      • Srikant July 25, 2011 at 01:29

        OK …

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