You might remember Rabbi Adam Jacobs, who proved God by using the god-of-the-gaps argument with respect to the origin of life. That, in turn, led to the appearance on this site of another rabbi, Moshe Averick, who apparently thinks that the origin of life by natural means was impossible since the first fossil organisms we have were already cyanobacteria. Averick demonstrated remarkable tenacity at “debating” by simply holding on to his original position, like a dog with his teeth in the postman’s leg.
The whole thing taught me a lesson: Jews can be just as willfully misguided about evolution as Christians like William Dembski or Michael Behe.
Adam Jacobs is back again, embarrassing me (and all atheistic Jews) with another PuffHo piece, ”Atheism’s odd relationship with morality.” The relationship, of course, is that if you’re an atheist and think that free will is illusory, you have no reason to be moral:
What difference could it possibly make what one random collection of electrons does to another? He harbors some subjective notion that things ought not be done that way? Well tough darts. It boils down to his meaningless assertion vs. their equally meaningless one. Furthermore, if there is no such thing as free will, then what sense does it make to blame anyone for any action whatsoever? “I felt like it” or “I couldn’t help myself” should be considered perfectly reasonable defenses to any “wrong-doing.” In fact, the most sensible and logically consistent outgrowth of the atheist worldview should be permission to get for one’s self whatever one’s heart desires at any moment (assuming that you can get away with it).
He goes on to justify racism as the natural outgrowth of Darwinism:
Furthermore, doesn’t Darwinism suggest that certain groups within a given population will develop beneficial mutations, essentially making them “better” than other groups? It would seem that racism would again be a natural conclusion of this worldview — quite unlike the theistic approach which would suggest that people have intrinsic value do to their creation in the “image of God.”
I don’t want to sound like Berlinerblau and Hoffmann, but I do recommend that the good rabbi do a bit of reading. That would include Steve Pinker’s chapter on punishment and determinism in The Blank Slate, where he sees the true value of punishment as deterrence: an environmental intervention that deterministically controls people’s willingness to commit crimes. The value of punishment, as well as milder sanctions like shunning and disapprobabion, are independent of whether or not we have free will (and I don’t believe we do, at least in the conventional sense of a “ghost in the brain”).
And maybe Jacobs would like to read some of the many books, starting with Frans de Waal, on how morality might be at least partially evolved in our species—an adaptation that enabled us to live in cohesive groups. Evolved morality, buttressed by universal social strictures, may well explain the feeling (emphasized by Marc Hauser) that many moral strictures feel innate—that we often have a gut response rather than a reasoned one about why things are right or wrong. (This holds, for example, for moral dilemmas like the trolley problem. If you haven’t read about that one, do so, for it’s fascinating.)
Perhaps this gut response is what Francis Collins means by “The Moral Law”: our innate sense of right and wrong. And Jacobs, like Collins, thinks that there can be only one source for this law—God (well, Collins might append Jebus as well). Jacobs:
At the end of the day, the reason that I can agree with many of the moral assertions that these atheists make is because they are not truly outgrowths of their purported philosophies, but rather of mine. I would suspect that the great majority of the atheistic understanding of morality comes directly or indirectly from what is commonly referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic.
Maybe I should also recommend that Jacobs read Plato, who pointed out four hundred years before purported Christ that “piety” (for this you can read “morality”) cannot issue directly from the gods, since if gods loved impiety (read “immorality”) we would not adhere to their will. This shows that we have standards for morality independent of what gods dictate. Many later philosophers also noted this dilemma.
The conclusion that morality cannot come from gods seems so obvious to me that I’m baffled why people like Collins and Jacobs believe otherwise. Well, maybe Jacobs just believes that morality doesn’t necessarily come from God, but that religion itself buttresses morality. And in some cases it does, though I much prefer a morality that comes from secular reason than one associated with a despotic sky-father. For one thing, religion also buttresses immorality. Some people’s “Judeo-Christian ethics” foster discrimination against gays and women, prohibit condoms and many types of sex, and completely condemn abortion, even when the mother’s life is in danger. (I often wonder what people would think about abortion were there no religion.)
Other religions’ “ethics” call for killing apostates or those who draw the Prophet, stoning adulterers, and killing “witches”. None of these horrific acts are part of the secular ethics espoused by atheists.
Finally, has the Rabbi noticed that his own holy book, the Old Testament, sanctions a lot of actions that we’d consider immoral today, like genocide, stoning for violating the Sabbath, and death for homosexual acts? If we are to do god’s will, why not that will?
I’m pretty sure that Rabbi Jacobs, like nearly all Christians and Jews, picks and chooses his Biblically-based ethics. Why? Because he has an innate sense of what actions are right or wrong, or because he doesn’t think that god’s expressed will comports with modern secular reason and “well being.”
Those, by the way, are also the sources of atheist ethics.
Let us not confuse the idea that ethics come from god with the observation that ethics are promoted by religions. The first notion is wholly false, the second only partly true.