The Atheist Mind Humanist Heart website recently conducted a crowd sourcing project titled, “The ReThink Project”, where they asked their viewers to submit entries with the goal of developing the “Ten Commandments for the 21st century”. They had a slew of popular atheist names on the judge’s panel to narrow all the entries down to ten, which included well-known atheistic advocates such as Adam Savage from Mythbusters, Dan Barker from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience television show. There was a reasonable amount of responses from their fan base with over 2,800 entries submitted from over 18 countries. However I must admit, when I heard of the “ReThink Project”, I almost laughed aloud.
The first question that ran through my head was, ‘how are they going to ground any moral values and duties to an objective standard without a God?’ Without an objective moral standard by which to differentiate morally good actions and morally evil actions, will any of their revised Ten Commandments make any sense? Below, I have listed their version of the Ten Commandments along with an explanation of why they believe it should be on the list. After the listed commandment and its explanation, I’ll outline my thoughts on whether their revised commandment truly aligns with an atheistic worldview. From an ontological perspective, moral laws (i.e. commandments) cannot be objectively grounded without the existence of a moral law giver (i.e. God) who would be the source by which all moral activity can be objectivity measured. Now that I’ve established the basis for my critique, I’ll jump into my assessment of each of their newly development atheistic commandments.
- “Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence”
Why: “It is essential in order for us to be able to collaboratively work together to find common solutions to pressing world problems”
Despite the fact that the New Atheistic movement has been synonymous with a gross display of closed-mindedness, it’s important to ask, what moral obligation does anyone have to be open minded about anything under atheism? Why do “common solutions to pressing world problems” really matter? Obviously, as humans, we naturally feel like this statement is altruistic and morally admirable. It’s only natural to feel like we have a moral obligation to band together as the dominant human species and tackle sex-trafficking, ISIS, world pollution, and corrupt politicians. But the main question remains, why? Why, from an atheistic worldview, is there any reason to believe this sense of obligation is objective? Without a God, the individual atheist must answer this question if he or she is going to going to make it a commandment (i.e. moral obligation) for others to abide by.
- “Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you want to be true”
Why: “We’re more likely to believe what we wish to be true over what we wish not to be true, regardless of veracity. If we’re interested in learning the truth, then we need to actively separate our beliefs from our desires”
This is just as applicable to atheists as it is to theists. I’ve known both atheists and theists who believe what they do simply on the basis of wanting their worldviews to be true rather than believing what they do because their beliefs are evidentially aligned with reality. In fact, I feel too many people are like this. Not surprisingly, their rationale seems to be loaded with atheistic presuppositions. The rationale for this commandment seems to be underhandedly directed at theists who aren’t interested in seeking truth because they are incapable of separating beliefs from reality. While I agree that we should all strive to seek the truth, and those who honestly do so will undoubtedly find it, but what moral obligation is there to act in this way if God does not exist? Why is the quality of studiousness an admirable quality in an atheistic worldview versus the quality of laziness? This commandment to seek ‘what is most likely to be true’ cannot be judged as moral without an objective standard by which to measure it.
- “The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world”
Why: “Every time humans have questions this method is used to solve them. If we don’t know, we don’t know but instead of making up the answer we use this method to reach a conclusion/answer”
The scientific method is an excellent method of understanding the natural world. The scientific method gathers volumes of information that we can further study and use to come up with philosophical conclusions, which will grant us the ability to see theistic implications. In their explanation of the commandment, they pat themselves on the back for using the scientific method instead of “making up the answer”. When it comes to moral truths, are they devising their “10 Commandments for the 21st Century” by using the scientific method or are they just “making up the answer”? It seems that they wouldn’t have devised their version of the Ten Commandments while simultaneously believing their moral conclusions were false. I’d like to ask them how the scientific method assisted them in the construction of these new commandments.
- “Every person has the right to control their body”
Why: “This includes a person\”s right to not be murdered, raped, imprisoned without just cause (violating another person\’s rights), kidnapped, attacked, tortured, etc. This also protects a person\’s freedom of speech and freedom to dress and represent themselves as they so choose”
There are some interesting insights that can be made about this commandment. If they are going to live consistently with their 4th commandment, do you think they would be pro-life? As they said in their explanation, “This includes a person\”s right to not be murdered”. Given that an abortion would meet the definition of murder as the unborn baby is a person, their 4th commandment requires the atheist to be pro-life if they are going to live according to their own commandments they constructed. Given that many nonbelievers are traditionally pro-choice, it would be interesting to see how they would reconcile this contradiction between the commandment that they approved and their traditionally held position on the abortion issue.
Atheists have been some of the fiercest aggressors against the Christian worldview in Western society. The words bigot, intolerant, hateful, narrow-minded, and homophobe haven’t been so grossly misused in the history of the English language to describe the Christian community simply because Christians haven’t embraced particular behaviors (particularly homosexuality) among society. While society is progressively embracing this behavior as a whole, the Christians who oppose homosexuality are being publically demonized for holding true to their beliefs. When atheists disagree with our standing in opposition of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, etc…, will this 4th commandment keep them from being toxic during dialogues?
I repeat again, if the atheistic worldview is true, what rights do we have if God does not exist? Rights would be illusory and if anyone said they had a right to something, it would be their own personal construct rather than an objective reality established by God that all people can see and acknowledge.
- “God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life”
Why: “When one does a good deed it isn’t because God tells one to do a good deed, but because one simply wants to be good person. As Human beings we are capable of defining our own, different, meanings for our lives, with or without a god”
It’s true; atheists can be morally great people. In fact, I’ve known atheists that are far more moral than any religious person! We must ask however, do you need to have a personal relationship with God to be a morally good person? No, but God has placed the moral law on our hearts which is how we all acknowledge that there is an objective moral code by which to measure all moral actions. The explanation says, “When one does a good deed it isn’t because God tells one to do a good deed, but because one simply wants to be good person”. How are they defining ‘good’ without an objective standard? Is it the subjective standard that they’ve constructed on their own? Or possibly, is it the objective ‘good’ that we all know exists because the objective standard is written on our hearts? Without God, the term ‘good’ is meaningless in a moral sense.
- “Be mindful of the consequences of all of your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them”
Why: “It may sound obvious, but negligence and refusal to take responsibility are an immense source of harm in the world, from interpersonal relations to Global issues”
How would consequences have any moral implications under an atheistic worldview? Let alone moral obligations! What reasons do we have to believe that atheism is the proper moral framework to take the 6th commandment seriously?
- “Treat others as you would want them to treat you and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective”
Why: “If everyone did their best to carry this out as far as it can go, everyone would get along much better”
Ah yes, the Golden Rule! It’s a good one. But again, the same question continues to arise, what reason do we have to believe that atheism demands such a moral obligation? Without an objective moral framework, how can a commandment authoritatively issue such an obligation?
- “We have the responsibility to include future generations”
Why: “As human beings, we have great power. As Voltaire noted “With great power comes great responsibility.” To not consider others would be selfish and petty. We have demonstrated the ability to be magnanimous, are rapidly becoming more so, and will be even more so in the near future”
What moral obligations do we have to future generations if atheism is correct? Their explanation highlights that it is morally detestable to be “selfish and petty”, but what basis does the atheist have to make such a moral judgment? When there is no objective standard, one cannot contrast morally good qualities from morally bad ones.
- “There is no one right way to live”
Why: “If you look, even a little, you find many cultures living in moral societies that are fundamentally different, with only a few very basic principles being adhered to between them. Just because one group is different, does not mean they are wrong”
What is the purpose of these Ten Commandments if they are not telling me how to live? Doesn’t commandment nine invalidate the entire purpose of developing these Ten Commandments? Why would you write commandment nine if by writing commandment nine you invalidate the entire list that attempts to tell me how to live in the ‘right way’? It’s a huge inconsistency.
- “Leave the world a better place than you found it”
Why: “The Japanese concept of Kaizen teaches that small incremental improvements can have a profound effect over time. We should all strive to leave the world better than we found it be it through relieving the suffering of others, creating works of art, or passing along knowledge”
Under an atheistic worldview (sounding repetitious), what moral obligation do I have to the world? The atheistic worldview does not necessarily require moral obligations. While most people feel like this is something all people should strive to do, but what real obligation is there to fulfill these feelings? These types of moral obligations are consistent with a theistic worldview, not an atheistic one.
With the moral framework of the atheistic worldview being grossly inadequate to make this commandment list philosophically sound, does this list serve any objective purpose whatsoever outside of constructing a merely subjective list of what they personally would like to see? I would say not. Since all of these commandments are completely subjective, what moral obligation do we have to them? The sad irony is that if philosophical materialism (i.e. atheism) is true, as many on the judges panel contend that it is, determinism is a reality and nobody can really be held morally accountable for their own actions because they’re merely walking meat-machines (i.e. molecules-in-motion) that are simply responding, moment by moment, to each and every preceding physical event. How can someone who is committed to philosophical materialism claim that objective moral standards and obligations exist when we (i.e. humanity) are material that is naturally reacting to preceding material events? If philosophical materialism is true, all material existence and actions can be compared to dominos falling from the very beginning of the universe. All actions would be the direct result of the event before it; hence the present event would be completely determined by its preceding event. Does determinism allow for objective morality? Absolutely not. Why? Freewill would not possible because all actions would be determined by a prior material event.
That’s what makes this list of 10 Commands for the 21st Century so ridiculous. Like Frank Turek brilliantly says, “Atheists have to sit in God’s lap to slap his face”. Atheists are borrowing the objective moral framework provided by God to clumsily combat His existence. Obviously, atheists want us to take their commandments seriously but they have no ontological foundation to objectively formulate their 10 Commandments. Since objective morality provided by God is the only morality than demands a moral obligation, , I suppose their list of commandments is a mere compilation of their molecules-in-motion that happened to have developed as a result of all of their preceding physical events, which makes these commandments not only subjective, but determined. In other words, all the commandments that were compiled were physically determined and cannot be considered as morally objective in any sense. To be imaginative, let’s pretend that the atheistic worldview magically allowed for freewill; that would still not allow for an ontological foundation for the grounding of objective morality, hence making their list of 21st century commandments completely subjective.
At the end of the day, the atheistic worldview is morally unlivable. Not because atheists are somehow incapable of living good moral lives but because there is no difference between good or evil without the objective moral standard set forth by God. Many atheistic scholars have come to terms with this reality. Atheist Richard Dawkins wrote in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life,
“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. . . . DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” (p. 133)
Atheist William Provine, a scholar of the history of evolutionary biology at Cornell University, said in a debate with Philip Johnson,
“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either”
Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse wrote in Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,
“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory” (pp. 262-269)
I can go on and on with atheist scholars supporting this position. Generally speaking, atheist academics have settled this fact. Morality is groundless without a moral law giver (i.e. God). Does that sound depressing? Absolutely, but it is the truth if God does not exist. My goal isn’t to put a damper on “The ReThink Project” but I may suggest that it strongly rethink its strategy. If it were to do that, their project may not be nearly as fun. Imagine if they were to advertise in a way that stayed loyal to their atheistic worldview! It might go a little something like this,
“At Atheist Mind Humanist Heart, we’re developing a project that will update the 10 Commandments for the people of the 21st Century, and we need your help! While we recognize that all of your submissions to this project have been causally determined and your freewill is nothing more than a convenient illusion, we value what nature has ultimately forced you to write! Let your Darwinian roots take you as far as your freewill illusions will allow. Write like you have a mind of your own! Celebrate the notion of being open-minded and morally obligated to do certain things. Write as though it matters! Ascribe value to actions and behaviors when there is none to be had! Enjoy my fellow freethinkers, as though you were really free to think!”
I pray that nobody took personal offense to my parody but I honestly feel it (as ridiculous as it was) was a more accurate representation of the atheistic worldview than the one presented in the “ReThink Project”. I honestly don’t blame the atheists who desire a system of morality that affirms absolute moral standards. Life would be truly unlivable without them. For example, if someone robbed your home and harmed your family, you could not objectively say that this person did anything wrong! Maybe this man thinks that robbing and harming is morally acceptable. Also, you couldn’t hold him morally accountable because he is merely behaving in accordance with his molecules that are physically reacting from one moment to the next. Are you beginning to see how this is unlivable?
It’s admirable to be an atheist and affirm the existence of objective morals but it stands in the face of atheism itself. It is an inconsistent position to hold if one wishes to be a loyal atheist. Loyal atheism would require one to deny the existence of all morality. They couldn’t affirm that there was a moral difference between Hitler and Jesus because there is no objective moral standard by which to compare the two. In the end, it’s a hard subject to handle for the atheist because it’s evident that everyone wants to affirm certain moral truths to be absolute. It’s undeniable that God has truly written the moral law on our hearts.
I am a Christian and I understand the moral argument but you must have repeated yourself 5+ times. It doesn’t matter if atheist want quality laws that will preserve the human race. You say why would they want the laws they created? Lots of reasons: it doesn’t feel good to be stabbed so don’t stab others, it’s not good to kill your own species because you may go instinct, to rape another woman her face will show displeasure so we can use common I stint and good sense to realize rape may not be a good thing. If we are evolved we still would want to preserve our race so some moral frameworks would hVe naturally by on sense and survival have formed over trial and error and time. For example: if you rape and kill all your woman the tribe that is next door may have a better quality of life by not doing these things! If you steel all the time but hate getting stole from then you may say over time. Hmmm this doesn’t make me feel good to be stole from because I enjoy my things. Some moral frame work could evolve over time. I do agree that nothing has purpose in the end without God, however for you to complain about each of their values saying there is no purpose that’s a little bit far sided. Let’s say there is no God. You have two choices do everything g destructive just because nothing matter or do things constructive because while we are here we might as well avoid pain as much as possible for a more cosy survival until the end. So what I am saying is that yes the moral argument works to a degree but not as far as you are taking it!
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Yes, I understand how repetitious it was addressing certain commandments. In fact, I even acknowledged this fact while addressing the 10th commandment. However, much of this was by design. Given the legitimacy of the moral argument, it applies in much the same way to each commandment. My goal was to implement it in such as a way as to show how each and every one of their commandments is ultimately futile. While that may cost me the redundancy of having to write similar rebuttals for multiple commandments, I feel that it was necessary for the sake of consistency.
You quote me as saying, “Why would they want the laws they created?” This is a confused quote. I wrote that any commandments that they would devise would lack an ontological foundation and would ultimately be determined (i.e. freewill would not exist) by the laws of nature in the event that atheism was true. To the contrary, I acknowledged in my article that “It’s admirable to be an atheist and affirm the existence of objective morals” but ultimately it has been shown to be an inconsistent position for an atheist to hold. Since you’ve confused my message, most of the content of your comment is irrelevant to the intent of my post.
Lastly, you claim that I am approaching this article with too much of a “far-sided” approach and that I’m extending the moral argument beyond its limits by saying “the moral argument works to a degree but not as far as you are taking it!” If the moral argument is true, which would entail that morality cannot exist without God, how are you able to establish degrees by which this moral argument is true? If it is true, it is true regardless of degree. Next, it seems that you’re confusing the quality of being “far sided” with me taking their claims to their logical conclusions via argumentum ad absurdum. This is an important distinction that must be made.
Hopefully you understand that the moral argument is a large component of this article but also, the implications of philosophical materialism play a huge role because it would introduce determinism into the mix. I pray this clarifies the confusion that may have been present. God bless.
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