On April 9, I had a column published in the school paper titled “Subjectivism, Atheism lead to ugly conclusion.” A few weeks later, Dalton McCart sent in a rebuttal. His rebuttal was published in the April 30 paper. To keep the spirit of discourse alive, I will address his ideas point by point, in this last paper of the semester.
McCart begins by bringing up the Euthyphro Dilemma. In his own words, “(t)he (Euthyphro Dilemma) asks if god(s) commands what is morally good because it is morally good, or is it morally good because god(s) commands it?” This is a famous philosophical question that was supposedly asked by Socrates. In other words, the Atheist deploys a 2,000 year-old dilemma as some sort of “gotcha” on the Christians. Unfortunately for McCart, this so-called dilemma has been thoroughly answered countless times.
The issue with the Euthyphro Dilemma is that it poses a false binary. Either God is above morality, or morality above God. But neither of these positions represent the God of the Bible. What is good is good because it is God’s very nature. God cannot act outside of his nature; it is simply who he IS. Put another way, God IS good. Morality is not separate from God, nor he from morality. The Euthyphro Dilemma was asked by Socrates regarding the Greek conception of gods. Socrates knew nothing of the monotheistic Christian God and his question was not about him. His question was about the pantheon of Greek gods who acted more like superheroes than arbiters of good.
In the following paragraph, McCart goes on to say that “moral subjectivism is the idea that all moral opinions are valid, but the existence of contradiction makes this self-defeating.” McCart would be right, if he had not misdefined moral subjectivism. Moral subjectivism does not posit that “all moral opinions are valid;” moral subjectivism posits that no set (objective) morality exists, and therefore all views on right and wrong are merely matters of opinion.
Allow me to illustrate the difference.
Some people think pizza tastes better than any other food, others think ice cream tastes better and still others think cheeseburgers are better. All of these things can be true because one’s preference for food is entirely subjective –– a matter of opinion. This is food subjectivism. Because there is no set standard for the best food, food preferences are not right nor are they wrong. They’re just opinions. McCart is simply wrong in his definition of moral subjectivism.
Atheists, like McCart, want to have it both ways. They want to hold on to objective morality but throw out God. But this cannot be done.
McCart argues that morality can be found purely in the natural world, with no need to reference the supernatural. He notes experiments in which two monkeys are shown to have a sense of fairness and empathy. “By comparing ourselves to our relatives in the natural world we can extrapolate how early humans may have acted and see that the foundation for our morality is natural,” says McCart. But I think McCart once again has a misunderstanding of terms.
If by “morality,” McCart means social norms that guide human behavior, then of course he is correct. God is not necessary for humans to behave in a certain manner that we call “acting morally.” But I never challenged this notion in my column. I asserted that God is necessary for objective morality. Objective morality is the idea that certain things really are good or really are evil, that certain actions or behaviors are actually good or actually bad.
Claiming that morality exists because we evolved to show empathy and compassion does not show empathy or compassion to be objective. All that shows is that empathy and compassion are not actually good but are merely advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint. Teeth and opposable thumbs are also advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint, but we do not call these things moral. If morality is the product of evolution, then it is merely an illusory concept that helps humans propagate. It’s not actually wrong to mistreat another human, we are just programmed not to like it because of our evolutionary past.
Lastly, I will address what I suspect many atheists did not understand about my column. I titled the column “Subjectivism, Atheism lead to ugly conclusions.” Note what I did not say. I did not say “Subjectivism, Atheism lead to ugly consequences.” McCart must have missed this. In his last paragraph, he says “regardless of where one believes morality comes from, it is insensitive to claim that others do not have the capacity for morality or purpose in life without one specific view.”
Nowhere in my column that he is referring to did I ever suggest that people “do not have the capacity for morality” if they do not believe in God. I specifically avoided doing this. I said atheism leads to ugly conclusions –– not consequences –– precisely because I was not saying that atheists are incapable of doing good or that atheists are always evil, wicked people. My argument was this: The necessary conclusions that logically flow from an Atheist’s worldview are ugly ones. For those who wish for an elaborate explanation of this point, read my piece entitled “Subjectivism, Atheism lead to ugly conclusions.”