Recently, I asked “Are atheists immoral ,” commenting
It’s not so much that [materialist] atheists are immoral, but that immoral people are often atheists. That is, the guy who kicks cats anyway, and fears divine retribution, may resolve his problem by deciding that there is no God and therefore no divine retribution.
Then he goes back to kicking cats in peace. Other atheists don’t like him but what can they do?
The comments were interesting, including
Velikovsky at 5:
I don’t know about in the great white north but I know what an atheist cat lover in Texas might do.
Well, yes, but the problem I anticipated is not quite answered in this way. It is not about taking action. It’s about determining a moral ground for doing so. Jurisdictions in the great white north are as well able as any other to enact laws against cruelty to animals, and even to enforce them. They could enact strange and useless laws that afflict both man and cat, helping neither party, but providing a living for bureaucrats. And, whatever the merits of their cause, people can risk taking the law into their own hands. The dilemma is, how to construct a rational and moral basis for saying that the Atheist League’s members, many of whom are active in animal welfare, are right and the cat kicker is wrong.
It gets more complex. Assume that the population’s makeup gradually changes. The town comes to be dominated by members of an ignorant and violent sect that believes that dogs and cats are unclean – and that it is a virtue to punish them accordingly. What sustains the atheist in the face of persecution for his animal welfare work – other than the conviction that sect members are ignorant and violent? However well founded, such a conviction is not likely to sustain a person long in the face of persecution.
After all, the materialist atheist can have no conviction that he is right in any transcendent sense. His selfish genes cause him to oppose the sect’s cruelties. And the sect is now dominant in public affairs. Sustaining injuries or death from public and private persecution by the sect is pointless because he lives for this world only.
David W. Gibson at 16 says,
I’ve never seen any indication that which church (if any) one attends, has any correlation at all with how well one follows the golden rule. Or with how reliably one keeps one’s word. Or with how tenderly one treats one’s cat.
Not sure I follow. If that’s true, all moral persuasion from any source must be equally useless. It makes no difference whether one belongs to the Atheist League or the ignorant and violent sect, how one behaves toward cats. Unlike Gibson, I have seen plenty of evidence that it does make a difference. But where life experience differs, who shall decide?
Elizabeth Liddle says, at 21 that atheists have a rational base for ethics, but does not say what it is. The trouble is, if we are mere products of our selfish genes and live for this life only, I am not sure what a “rational base” would be. The most we can say is that the Atheist League members’ genes’ and neurons’ behaviour put them in conflict with the genes and neurons of the sect’s members – and that the atheists will likely lose the battle and go extinct. And that cats’ fate will be the least of it.
Gibson attempts to help at 27 by saying,
If there is no untimate basis for morality, some people just think this means there can be no basis for morality whatsoever.
No indeed. Witness the fact that the sect views cat kicking as morally correct, even obligatory. And they are the majority. How does the minority atheist know he is right? Or, as kairosfocus puts it at 31:
… the issue is whether rights and wrongs are even meaningful, beyond one species or other of “might males right.”
Really, the Atheist League can invoke only its minority preferences, and at best hope to get a “second class citizen” exemption from kicking cats. Without any hope of being right in principle – because their own creed does not sustain any such hope. And in any event, the immoral people who only professed to be atheists – to escape a sense of guilt and impending judgement – are a fifth column within their League. They undermine morale by kicking cats and arguing for compromise on core values, in order to fit in. The rest follows.
You may treat this thought experiment as a parable or prophecy if you wish.