Letter to the editor
This article is in response to the opinion piece “Subjectivism, atheism lead to ugly conclusions” by Isaac Demotta.
The Euthyphro Dilemma is an old question that asks about the root of good in the universe. The E.D. 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 boils down to if morality is entirely based on god’s religious authority then it is within god’s ability to turn evil into good and it would be objectively good. For example, if god declares that murder is good, it would then be the only moral option to murder. To refuse to do so would make the offender immoral. This means morality is based on god’s whim and therefore arbitrary, not eternal and unchanging. The other side is morality is fixed and in that case god’s authority must agree with what is good or god is not moral.
According to Dr. Harwood, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, moral subjectivism in relation to epistemological relativism is self-contradictory. Moral subjectivism is the idea that all moral opinions are valid, but the existence of contradiction makes this self-defeating. Dr. Harwood also says this does not mean that god is necessary for morality instead we discover morality by engaging in reason and discourse. There are moral structures throughout the world that do not have god at the source. The most influential ethical systems in history such as: Aristotle’s Virtue ethics, Hume’s concepts of Sympathy and Benevolence, Kant’s Deontology or Duty Ethics, and Mill’s Utilitarianism do not need god like many Asian systems like Confucianism, Taoism, and certain forms of Yoga in Buddhism and Hinduism.
Dr. Walker-Pacheco, Professor of Anthropology, explains that we also see similar foundations of morality in the natural world, supporting that morality exists outside of human religion. Studies, such as “Justice- and fairness-related behaviors in nonhuman primates” by Sarah F. Brosnan at Georgia State University, have been done to test a sense of fairness by rewarding two monkeys differently for the same test, and the lesser rewarded monkey refuses their treat. On the other hand, empathy is shown when the monkey with the greater reward denies their treat until the other receives an equal payment. Dr. Walker-Pacheco mentions other examples. Neanderthal graves have been found with grave goods showing a reverence for their dead kin. Similarly, crows and elephants have been observed holding funeral like ceremonies. Empathy and fairness are attributes long thought to be strictly human. Dr. Walker-Pacheco says, “behavior doesn’t fossilize” but 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.
Therefore, it is reasonable for people of any faith, or lack thereof, to be moral and to have a purpose. Atheism is a claim about the belief in the existence of god(s). It does not make a judgment on morality. Atheism does not lead to nihilism nor is it a life of thrill and pleasure. Some may be hedonistic in the same way that some religious people are. I, like many, do not live life for thrill and pleasure, but aim to do good in the world and to show that people can lead good fulfilling lives without religion. Often, an atheist’s morality is based in humanism, a system focused on the goodness of humans and rationality to solve problems. 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. Billions of people around the world have a different view on religion than the author and are equally capable of morality.