Watching atheists debate moral issues is fascinating. Like a man wading a river with water up to his nose and saying “water, what water?” they are up to their noses in irony and yet appear to be completely oblivious to it.
Two atheists debating moral issues are like two card players arguing over whether a particular play is legal when one of them is judging the play by the rules of bridge and the other is judging the play by the rules of poker.
The rules of bridge and the rules of poker, like the rules of all card games, are arbitrary. Arbitrary rules work fine so long as all the players agree to abide by them. But what happens when I want to abide by the rules of bridge and you want to abide by the rules of poker? Who gets to decide whether the arbitrary rules of poker or the arbitrary rules of bridge apply? The answer, of course, is there is no standard by which we may judge whether the rules of poker are superior to the rules of bridge. It is a matter of preference.
Sal’s post about Richard Dawkins’ views on infidelity reminded me of Phillip Johnson’s famous “the grand sez who” article.
Atheists’ moral “rules” are nothing but expressions of preference. Dawkins asks “Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?” Given atheist premises there is no possible answer to this question other than “I prefer not to.” Dawkins apparently prefers otherwise. Who is to judge between the two preferences?
Notice here that the utilitarian/consequentialist “harm principle” to which many atheists instinctively resort when it comes to moral questions does absolutely no good. Let’s assume the wife prefers monogamy and the husband wants to sleep around. The “traditional values” atheist says the wife’s position is the moral position because infidelity harms her in obvious ways. Dawkins says the wife should lighten up, because not only is she not harmed in any way, but also her narrow-minded anti-free love bigotry is harmful to the husband, because it denies him pleasure to which he is inclined. On what ground can we judge between the asserted harms? There is none.
Notice also that evolutionary storytelling is singularly unhelpful. Dawkins says we evolved to have sexual jealousy. Does he not also have to say that the urge to have sex with more than one partner is an evolved trait? After all, on his premises there is no other explanation for the existence of that trait. So when one evolved trait conflicts with anther evolved trait who gets to decide which evolved trait should prevail? In this particular instance Dawkins has volunteered to show us the way, but why should anyone care what Dawkins’ arbitrary preferences are as opposed to the arbitrary preferences of, say, the Pope?
At the end of the day, on atheist premises good and evil are empty concepts. There is only “I prefer.” In other contexts Dawkins himself expresses this plainly when he writes that we live in a universe that has “no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Why, then, does Dawkins believe he has any warrant to lecture us on moral issues? After all, the obvious answer to any moral assertion he may make is “sez who?”to which he must answer “sez me.” And the obvious answer to that is “why should I care what you say” to which the answer is . . . [crickets].