The problem with atheism

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

— C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

Categories: Atheism

15 replies

  1. “What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” You were comparing it to a better version of this very universe. It’s perverse to say you need a god to call a universe in which the suffering of the innocent is less rampant “better.” I love (and envy) the clarity of Lewis’ prose, but Christianity had him confused.


  2. hmmm not sure you got his point: Lewis asked ‘how had I got this idea of just and unjust?’


  3. Yours and lewis’ obvious but unspoken point is that justice is only measured by a yard stick owned by god himself. That we would be unable to judge for ourselves and that any such judgement would be only subjective.
    Prove this contention and do it without referring to any religious text. Your unsupported bias is showing.


    • Lewis makes an excellent point:

      His argument against God was that the universe seemed so “cruel” and “unjust”.

      Then he came to reflect and asked himself, ‘how had I got this idea of just and unjust?

      He further enquired: “What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

      I interpret him to mean that he had used objective values such as justice and injustice to reject the existence of God, but these values could not just be the product of a meaningless, godless material universe, as they suggested real objective standards that somehow transcended it.

      This is not a proof of God in the logical, mathematical sense, but an insight and intuition into the origin and nature of metaphysical truth.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Your reasoning is circular and begs the question. Again, your bias is showing


  4. KIA your bias is extremely obvious. Care to have a discussion or are ad hominems more your style?


  5. Paul, where did Kia make an ad hominem?

    Anyway, we can have a discussion, as you seem very open to it. Thanks for that and thanks for posting this quote. As an unbeliever, I still read and enjoy Lewis, as I mentioned.

    I’ll borrow an analogy to explain how strange your (and Lewis’) argument strikes me. Imagine he were to make this claim not about objective ethics but objective physical health. “Who is to say ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean ‘vomiting all the time’?” I mean, it might be my subjective opinion that vomiting until one dies is what it means to be healthy. Who are you to contradict me? It’s just your word against mine. Therefore, in order for us to speak of health objectively, we need an ultimate Health Authority who transcends the discussion. After all, when I speak of “better” health, what is my measuring stick?

    It should be clear that ethics and morality, like health, have to do with well being. We’re talking about suffering and wellness. To ask why wellness is preferable to suffering is to hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question. Ask someone in pain why it’s bad that he’s in pain, and you’ll find he has nothing further to appeal to. The notion that we can only speak of what is “better” or what is “good” in a meaningful way because there is a being powerful enough to adjudicate these matters is only an appealing argument to the “already indoctrinated,” and for the same reason no one makes the “objective notions of health require a god” argument.

    Lewis asks, as you say, where HE adopted the concept of “just” and “unjust.” You seem to suggestion that beings could not evolve a sense of fairness. Kin selection and game theory belie this at every turn. Serious research has been done on how our sense of morality (its successes and many failings) have evolved. Look into it, if you haven’t. I recommend these books:

    The Selfish Gene (Dawkins)
    The Moral Landscape (Harris)
    The Red Queen (Ridley)
    The Moral Animal (Wright)

    Again, thanks for being open to conversation.


  6. “You seem to suggestion…” Why do I reread AFTER I post things? BAH!


  7. Oh, I see. Humans themselves are incapable of evaluative acts and ethical discussion.

    I mean, that’s got to be the underpinning assumption Lewis is making there, right?


  8. It’s not that humans are unable, it’s that if humans do make evaluative acts without an objective standard to follow then all our views on morality, ethics and law will always be subjective and have no actual basis.
    Just as Cole suggested, since our morality is a result of trial and error in evolution there is no real reason why I should be punished if I were to kill him. That sounds quite raw but it highlights the absurdity to believe that morality works without an objective standard.

    I’m not a believer myself as such, I’m pretty agnostic or deist but I think morality without an objective would mean we have no real reason to follow any kind of law. We could simply make our own if it merely came out of evolution. Many people indeed have that mindset which is why in many parts of the world, we hear about mass killings in schools, cinemas, universities and more because those killers had this sort of mentality. Funny how the highest occurrences of these kinds of killings are found in societies where God or an objective standard of morality are put aside, such as the U.S. and many other westernised countries. Also in the past we have seen how communist regimes which were atheist lead to the killings of millions of people in China and Russia alone.

    These things prevent me from claiming to be an atheist or at least saying that morality is a product of evolution.


    • Firstly, with regard to your case studies, and ignoring the fact that America is the most religious country in the developed world, are you really suggesting that I won’t find more examples of school shootings in explicitly religious countries for explicitly religious reasons. Because ISIS comes strongly to mind. As for Mao and Stalin (and Pol Pot): I find it interesting what you find the most fascinating and compelling thing about them was their claim of a lack of religion and their claim of communism. They patently isn’t install a communism and they patently had extreme and steadfastly held dogmatic and ethical** beliefs about the world.

      Second, this time regarding the lack of an objective standard to morality, I have many points: consider again the idea of a human discussion and evaluative acts, and tell me again whether there is any reason a society wouldn’t want to arrest a murderer?
      Consider also why anyone should take God as a standard of morality seriously. The arguments as to why one should* take God as a serious moral standard are normally quite limited: self-interest and eternal afterlives; tyranny based on the assumption of God’s power; people pretend to not be able to imagine any other system.
      * notice “should”. It, in itself, is an ethical statement. It becomes circular: why should I see God as a moral standard? Because God says to!; Why should I care what God says to do?; Because God is the moral standard. It’s we’re taking “should” by fiat, then I decree that the objective standard of morality is conscious wellbeing.

      ** not “ethically good”. Ethical in the sense that it was a belief about how things should be.


  9. You clearly didn’t read where I said they put God aside, didn’t say anything about Americans not being religious. With that in mind, the majority of the people who do these killings in the west are atheist. And of course you can find religious examples, I was talking about countries with highest occurrences of killings due to lack of belief in objective standards of morals. And I didn’t get your response about communism but perhaps you should read more on what they considered ethical such as eugenics, nihilism and more.

    I don’t think you’ve understood that without an objective moral standard, all of our morals are subjective to the society. If we had a community in the world which said murder was right, who could give a valid reason as to why that community was wrong? We just evolved to believe murder is wrong, right?

    Also you’ll have to ask your questions about God to someone else, I already mentioned I’m not religious I just acknowledge that morality without an objective standard is simply a product of society which could change with the times. And you can’t come to conclusions about a group of people based on your experiences with some. Just because you’ve seen religious people show signs of self-interest doesn’t mean they’re all like that. I have Buddhist friends who do things for the interests of others rather than themselves, and Buddhists don’t believe in an afterlife so yeah I sense a hint of bitterness towards a concept of God you’ve grown up with, most probably one of the Abrahamic Gods.


    • “… the majority of the people who do these killings in the west are atheist”
      I can’t seem to find any evidence this is true. In fact, to the contrary, an article on Patheos based on a FoI request finds the number of (self-identifying) atheists in prison is 0.07% of prison inmates [1]. That is a massively under-represented demographic, compared to the number of atheists in the general American public (~20%)[2].
      Let’s look at school shootings in a bit more detail, shall we? If atheism is the cause of school shootings (or, positively correlates with school shootings) we should expect America to have fewer school shootings that other, more secular, Western countries. America has had 159 school shootings since 2000 [3]. (That’s 0.49 school shootings per million people). The UK around 40% of people are atheist [4]. But, with the doubling of the atheist population, do we see a doubling in rates of school shootings? No. If we lower the bar, to talk only of “attacks” (to compensate for British gun laws) we see there have been 5 attacks since 2000 [5]. That’s 0.08 per million. And the story is similar across Scandinavian countries. So… there’s no discernable relationship between atheism and school shootings, that’s true even if ALL the US school shooters were atheist (which, as I said, I can’t seem to find evidence for).
      I’ve done reading on some of the tyrants of the Western world in the 21st Century, so perhaps you can direct me to exactly what you’re reading. My point is that there is no link between the fact these people are atheist and what they did. The only line you can actually draw is between their extreme, dogmatic beliefs and what they did. But, good luck drawing a line between what they actually believed and their atheism.
      I think you’ve missed my point about ethics as a human discussion and evaluative process. What I’m saying is there is no reason to prefer ethics by fiat from a God over ethics by reasonable and pragmatic discussion from humanity. Even if you find the latter completely vacuous, that doesn’t lend any credibility to the former. Perhaps more importantly for someone like you, who is deist/agnostic, is how would you deal with a God that says murder is fine as an objective moral standard. It’s a very pretty and reassuring argument when you think God agrees with you, but as you’re open to doubt you perhaps are also open to idea that a God doesn’t agree with you. If you think it’s impossible for a God to think that murder is ethically fine, I put it to you that you are using something other than a God to define morality in the first place and then making a “God” conform.
      “And you can’t come to conclusions about a group of people based on your experiences…”
      Everything you write from there onwards is entirely vacuous. I showed no sign of basing my arguments on only people I’ve experienced; Buddhists do have an afterlife (Nirvana and reincarnation); your personal experience with a few Buddhist friends isn’t relevant (according to you!).

      1 –
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      5 –;;


  10. Lewis’ question is a good one. Jumping to the conclusion, “Therefore, some supernatural version of Oogity Boogity!” is not. It is a pseudo-answer of Godidit that answers exactly nothing and advances our knowledge about the universe and everything it contains not one jot or tittle.

    Apologists and faitheists try to justify the jump with what I think is obviously a ridiculous rationalization… this idea that there has to be an ‘objective’ standard or chaos and/or hedonism ensues. As I said, ridiculous.

    It is self-evident that all our comparative measurements are based on mutually agreeable standards even if there are many to choose from. For example, the argument that we cannot possibly compare short with tall because there is no ‘objective’ standard for height and/or altitude demonstrates the ridiculousness of this excuse. We can and do measure by comparison all the time without entire populations of people bereft of such goddie benefits as a holy altimeter suddenly taking up mass shootings and raping and pillaging of one’s neighbours. That we can use different comparative standards and yet arrive at astounding accuracy again demonstrates the value of simply selecting a common one. Does it really matter, for example, if we use Imperial or metric to measure from here to there? We can use both to calculate to the 100 millionth of a mile or kilometer and land a robot successfully on a moving asteroid! Obviously, we don’t need an ‘objective’ God-approved standard. Any mutually agreeable standard will do.

    The same is true for reciprocity which lies at the heart of this sense of fair that Lewis calls ‘just’ and ‘unjust’.

    Lewis’ question is a comparative one and this the clue we need to simply agree to use a common – not universal, not objective – standard for comparison. Some divine Dear Leader bestowing this ‘objective’ sense of reciprocity is not required. I thought everyone knew this because everyone uses these ‘subjective’ standards to effect all the time. In fact, I remember a kid’s TV show that sang a song to teach us that “we can measure at our leisure if our units stay the same.” That’s basic math. Was I alone doing math and keeping my units the same? I doubt it. Actually, we use this comparative axiom of using a common unit in order to measure all the time in real life to real effect. Think speed limit. Think prescription glasses. Think currencies. Granting serious consideration to the need for an Objective Standard sanctified by some priestly cast who have insider information to their Boss Deity is not an improvement in any applicable area in which we want to compare and contrast.

    Lewis should have been clever enough to figure this out before rushing off into the metaphysics to excuse superstitious nonsense.

    So why do apologists and faitheists forget this comparative requirement so easily when it comes to morality? Why would any reasonable and rational person suddenly veer away from reality and start to argue that we require an objective standard that can only come from some god in order to exercise moral comparisons for human behaviour? In fact, anyone who rejects their innate understanding of reciprocity we call ‘sociopaths’ because we know it is neither typical nor healthy in advancing our social relationships. So where does this sense of fairness come from? If we seek answers to Lewis’ good question, then it seems rather obvious that any real answers, answers that advance our knowledge of what constitutes just and unjust, cannot lie in religion and belief in some Divine POOF!inator because we know that area of study (a subject without an object, don;t forget) never has, never does, and in all likelihood never will produce any knowledge about reality we can use; such answers regarding our moral sense must reside in the area of biology generally and neuroscience specifically.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Ethics by Discussion or by Fiat | Allallt in discussion

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