Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov gives voice to a well known idea, that without God, everything is permitted. In an era and culture in which moral relativism is the norm, the very statement of this idea may seem unnecessary; anyone who deigns to judge the actions of another as right or wrong brings the full weight of criticism and labeling against themselves. The Atheist community will point out that they have a morality without God that is sometimes claimed to be superior to that of religious people. The monotheist will claim otherwise, that moral law is sourced in God alone. Can one side or the other adequately defend their proposition or is the discussion really two different discussions, one designed to camouflage its futility?
Watch the language carefully. Professional Atheist David Mills, for example, writes, “I do believe, though, that the terms “right” and “wrong” usually lack a clear unbiased definition when employed by most speakers. Personally, I prefer to label behavior as either “considerate” or “inconsiderate” of someone else’s rights.” (Atheist Universe, 53) Mills uses interesting words here:
– Right & Wrong
– Considerate & Inconsiderate
Because most people are unable to attain his level of specificity with regard to the vocabulary of right and wrong, Mills shifts his statement of morality to the more flexible ‘considerate’ and ‘inconsiderate.’ The that cannot escape scrutiny however, is rights. In the atheistic view of the world, nothing is more than a variously evolved collection of cells created by chance. From where do these cellular masses become imbued with rights?
The more sophisticated Julian Baggini presents a similar position; “Morality is more than possible without God, it is entirely independent of him. That means atheists are not only more than capable of leading moral lives, they may even be able to lead more moral lives than religious believers who confuse divine law and punishment with right and wrong.” (Atheism, 37) Baggini leaves us with the same question to be answered, from where do notions of right and wrong come?
Eyes on your own paper and present your answers in essay form.
Dostoevsky image by Mathew.Hickey