CHAPTER 7: WHY I BELIEVE IN MORAL ABSOLUTES (Contradiction) Note: At this point, my hard-w
CHAPTER 7: WHY I BELIEVE IN
Note: At this point, my hard-working little laptop computer died for good. Fortunately, I had
backups of my finished work (chapters 1 through 6 and the Appendices), and work-in-process
(chapter 7). However, all of my references and my collection of notes covering subsequent
chapters, painstakingly gathered over four months, were lost. I will combine into a single essay the
chapters remaining after this one.
This chapter of Why I Believe is probably the strongest one in the book. Dr. Kennedy does a
decent job describing various moral systems, and he makes a fairly good case, with only a few
glaring weaknesses, for the moral system offered by Christianity. He is right to criticize Christians
for failing to bother their heads with an understanding of various moral philosophies, including their
own. I would recommend a study of diverse philosophies to anyone, especially nonbelievers, for
such a study provides firm ground to stand on when confronted by the onslaughts of fanatical
Kennedy gives adequate, if brief, descriptions of some of the prevalent ethical systems, but his
interpretation of them leaves something to be desired. He rails against astrology and behavioristic
psychology as being deterministic systems, without realizing that his own ethical system includes an
omniscient god, which arguably makes his system deterministic by setting up God as an outside
controlling force, trivializing the free will Kennedy venerates. In his description of the teleological
ethical system (which emphasizes the goodness of the end result of an action) Kennedy blames
evolutionary thought on a Christian giving Darwin a geology book (implying, essentially, that
learning science is somehow evil). Evolutionary thought was prevalent before Darwin, and his
conclusions were based on evidence collected during his voyages, not from a geology book.
Kennedy also shows he misunderstands situational ethics with his example that equates a motive of
love with a casual affair calculated to improve the emotional well-being of a lonely woman.
I was happy to see that Kennedy seems to hold a low opinion of altruism, a practice which many
Christians believe should be an integral part of their lives. He rightfully recognizes altruism, which is
seeking the good of others through self-sacrifice, as a basis for communism and socialism.
Nevertheless, Christians practice altruism because this was also an element of the teachings of
Jesus. Altruism is a basis of many religions, including Christianity. It is an evil system embodying
the concept of human sacrifice. The altruistic ethics of giving value through sacrifice contradict the
moral ethics of providing value to others through productivity.
Having touched upon different ethical systems, Kennedy then gives the reader three flawed items
of cautionary advice, which I will address here:
1. Speculative, rationalistic systems reject revelation and base the weight of their support
upon the conceptions of the human mind. Therefore, their limitations should be obvious at
My response to this is, "Revelational systems reject reason, and base the weight of their support
upon divine enlightenment from some mythical being. Therefore, their limitations should be obvious
What else is there besides the human mind, if we are unconvinced of God's existence? Morality
results from objective reasoning that determines whether a given thing is either inherently good for
the conscious human organism or inherently bad for the conscious human organism. A truly
complete rational system automatically takes into account the universal interconnecting relationships
between all humans in their social organism to arrive at mutually beneficial ethical decisions.
2. Rationalist systems are all man-centered. God is banished from his universe and has no
right to tell his creations what to do.
That sounds like a Good Thing to me. Besides, rationalist systems don't "banish" God anywhere.
How can you banish something which is either nonexistent or irrelevant?
3. All human ethical systems are willful rebellion against the Almighty God.
This is redundant. Again, one cannot rebel against something whose existence is questionable or
Kennedy also divides, wrongly, the whole matter of ethics into two groups: speculative and
revelational. He completely ignores objective ethics. The philosophy of Objectivism, conceived by
Ayn Rand, is a strict, logical, moral system that gives meaning and fulfillment to the lives of many
people, meeting all human needs without requiring a god, and without the internal contradictions
and conflicts associated with religious systems. Much literature has been written by and about Ayn
Rand and Objectivism. For a rewarding background study of this philosophy, read one of her
novels, notably the literary classic Atlas Shrugged.
In this chapter, Kennedy makes the following incredible declaration: In the Scriptures we have a
perfectly balanced ethical system that meets all human needs, and in the Hebrew-Christian
tradition, good is inevitably connected with God. These are lies. Human needs do not include, for
example, sex with guilt, or the threat of damnation. And for God's goodness, refer back to the
section on God's moral's and manners in the commentary on chapter 3. We can look at what
Christians call morality, based on the edicts from their God, and then ask "Are the actions of God
consistent with the morality that he prescribes?" and we find that the answer is no. The usual
argument from Christians is: "We cannot understand why God appears to be inconsistent with his
morality, because we are finite beings, incapable of God's infinite understanding." This strikes most
nonbelievers as a convenient excuse for not having a good retort.
Why assume God has a higher claim to morality? Christians make that leap by assuming he has
more knowledge. Let's examine an analogy. We could assume that Newt Gingrich has more
political answers than we do, since he has spent his whole life immersed in politics. We could
assume the same of Bill Clinton. Yet, the answers they provide do not match up, and are on
occasion wholly contradictory. It therefore falls upon each individual to examine what is truly right
and wrong, and not take the word of any one being just because he is a self-described expert. The
Bible portrays a God who acted as a moral judge, yet found such things as slavery, racism,
genocide, rape, and xenophobia occasionally acceptable. Humanity has since decided otherwise,
and in a similar fashion will probably even change God's mind regarding homosexuals over the next
If one considers that we seem to have evolved as social creatures, then many of those behavioral
norms that Kennedy attributes to Christianity are actually biological imperatives. Imagine how long
a social species would survive if its members were free to kill each other at will. Not long! Animals
do compete with each other, in limited ways, and within set rules - those who willfully destroy their
rivals find themselves ostracized.
It is likely that the capabilities of the human mind actually result from natural selection developing
our ability to distinguish others' intentions, good from bad. Evidence for this can be found in a study
(from Scientific American) in which subjects were asked to solve two comparable sets of
logic/math problems, one in pure, abstract form and the other within a social context. Guess which
ones people found easier? Our brains are designed to solve problems within contexts, especially the
social context in which we evolved.
Morality does not have to derive from God. The source of Christian ethics, now as always, is the
ethical/moral system of the society in which we live. These values have evolved along with society.
They're simply the rules that have enabled our society to survive. Our comprehension of Revealed
Truth guides our reactions and modifications to the Christian ethical system, which is rooted in
human nature, society, and history. Except for the possible role as creator of human nature, God is
quite unnecessary in this scheme as a "foundation" of morality.
You don't need religion for a complete ethical system. Ethical values should not rely on belief in
mythical beings. The supposition that you must act ethically to please some invisible, unknowable
God is a pretty weak basis for "morality," especially since the supposed God's moral codes are not
only provided indirectly through handed-down legends, but are also of questionable value,
considering his behavior as described in the Bible.
In the absence of religion, we form a moral belief system by opening our conscience to the needs
and desires of others. A Christian acts according to the demands of his or her deity; a nonreligious
person acts out of compassion. Remember the empathy principle? Feel as others feel in response to
Atheists, humanists, or nonreligious people in general, have ethical systems based on relationships
with people. That's pretty absolute. No one out there will come and save us; we need human
solutions to human problems. No mythical being is out there to "love" everyone; we need to care for
Take a morality from God. Why act in a particular way? "God said so." This is morality from
authority. Dr. Kennedy believes in moral absolutes, but authority is, of course, relative, not absolute!
Stanley Milgram's experiments demonstrated this quite well. Participants would accept the authority
of the "experimenter" and promptly 42% would shock an unwilling "subject" (actually an actor)
screaming in pain, pleading to be released and eventually not responding. Those who accept
morality from the authority of God, over the connections between them and other human beings,
may form immediate followings behind any alternate authorities, because they don't understand
morality and how it relates to other people. So, if the leader of a country says that certain people
are sub-human vermin, they follow the leader. Just like God, he must be right. He's authority.
Let's look at a few moral absolutes that don't require religion. These are things I consider to be
black-and-white absolutes. Everyone has unique values, but certain basic actions never change in
terms of rightness or wrongness; they do not vary according to opinion, personality, age, or culture.
Objectively good or bad actions are definable in absolute terms; other actions cannot be judged as
good or bad because they are determined by individual personal preferences or feelings. As with
actions, objective morals are also independent of anyone's opinions or proclamations. They are not
created nor determined by anyone. It is important to remember that a person's feelings, lifestyle,
desires, and needs can vary greatly without altering that person's character. Objective, natural
moral absolutes exist according to the following criteria:
A chosen action that is objectively good for the human organism is morally good or right.
A chose action that is objectively bad for the human organism is morally bad or wrong.
Note that "human organism" does not necessarily equate to "self." This is important. These criteria
lead to the following basic moral absolutes:
Honesty and Truth. Conscious striving for self-honesty, uncompromising loyalty to truth,
integrating honesty into one's life for knowing truth and reality, are essential for human
well-being, happiness, and prosperity (for individuals and society). Pragmatic compromise,
evasion of truth (for example, acceptance of dogma), and parasitical laziness are immoral.
Self-Esteem. Productive and creative actions that increase effectiveness in dealing with reality
are moral essentials to the self-esteem of an individual. Nonproductive actions that diminish this
effectiveness, and diminish the use of one's mind (for example, as with blind faith or narcotics
usage), are immoral.
Individual Rights. Recognition of the inalienable right each individual has to his or her life and
property, is moral. Actions that violate the life or plunder the property of others are immoral.
Refusal To Sacrifice. Sacrifice, the basis of altruism, occurs when a value is diminished or
destroyed for a lesser value or nonvalue. Refusal to sacrifice is life-enhancing, and morally
right. "Noble" sacrifice for a "higher" cause or no cause is morally wrong.
Prohibiting Use of Force. Prohibition of the initiation or threat of force, coercion, or fraud
against any individual for any reason is the foundation of morality. Note that actions of
self-defense or protection do not qualify as the initiation or threat of force. Use of force
(especially by governments or religions) against individuals, especially if the result serves the
social "good" or a "higher" cause, is immoral.
Ends do not justify means. This is true especially with respect to the use of force. All moral
actions are based on principles prohibiting initiatory force, threat of force, coercion, or fraud as a
means to accomplish ends, no matter how noble. On the other hand, pragmatic use of force or
coercion, violation or sacrifice of individual rights for the "good" of society for "noble" ends, is
Throughout human history, ethical systems based on religions have been oriented against some or
all of these absolute moral principles. Many find that adhering to these principles requires liberating
oneself from religious binds by casting religious dogmas out from one's life.
The Bible does not present a highly advanced moral code. In fact, despite positive aspects, it
presents a primitive, crude, suspicious, sexist moral code that is becoming, to the dismay of
fundamentalists, ignored more and more in modern society, and for good reasons. Perhaps this
ethical system suited people in Biblical times; but they were mistaken. Sexism, racism, slavery,
genocide, and superstition are always immoral tools with which to run a society. We've had the
benefit of history and fine examples of poorly-run societies (the rise of Christianity coincided with
the decay of the Roman empire, Christianity reached its peak of power in the Dark Ages, and
today we see religion-controlled governments, like Iran, floundering with unhappy and disturbed
populations); we should know better than to follow a failed moral code.
In my view, faith constipates the mind. It restrains people from much cerebral activity they might
otherwise be capable of. You don't need a God for an ethical system. In the end, the answer is
simple: You should be good because it is good to be so.
Much of this essay's content was influenced by random public comments, collected over a period of
3 months, from discussions involving myself and the following people on usenet, in the newsgroups
talk.origins and alt.atheism:
Carolyn Jean Fairman (cfairman@leland.Stanford.edu)
Scott Ferguson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Craig Haggart (email@example.com)
Nathan Hand (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tony Lawrence (email@example.com)
A. X. Lias (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rhonda Martorelli (email@example.com)
Robert Matthews (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Andy Mulcahy (be229@FreeNet.Carleton.CA)
Damion Schubert (email@example.com)
Michael L. Siemon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Click here for more links to Objectivism information.
Much of the material on moral absolutes was paraphrased from The Neo-Tech Discovery by
Frank R. Wallace, I & O Publishing, 1986, pp. 7-11.
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