It’s been a while since I blogged on religion, but this is one where I feel that even the best atheist debaters are missing the point.
A common apologist canard with regard to theism versus atheism is the concept of what they call morality. “How can you be moral without God?” or some variant therein. Now, of course there is the method of simply answering that question directly. How atheist make moral decisions, what the origin of morality in humans and society, objective versus subjective morality, etc. This has been done to varying degrees of effectiveness, and while it can get the point across, it’s ignoring that there’s an equivocation fallacy in the premise.
The question “How can you be moral without God?” is based on the apologist suggesting that the rules put for by a god in a holy book (for example, the commandments in the Bible), establish morality. The problem is to call that morality is to conflate that with the traditional meaning of the word.
The philosophical concept of morality and in any other context is reliant on the action being a personal choice to do an action that is perceived beneficial to others regardless of the effect on oneself. Any useful definition of morality includes in some part empathy. Following rules in order to not be punished by a god is the opposite of the general definition of morality, not the basis of it.
So we’ve established two general definitions for morality
a) Following the rules of a god
b) Acting in accordance to empathy and assessment of positive effects of an action, without concern for one’s own wellbeing
A question that could be asked of you is, “Is it more moral not to kill someone because you understand that person likely values his life, or because you’re afraid of going to jail?” Under definition a) the question doesn’t even make sense.
So it leads me to wonder, do the Christians who pose this question believe we should “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” because it’s in accordance with empathy, or because Jesus said so?