Is absolute morality good?

Often in discussions with believers, we hear, that atheists lack any morality (false), because without a god, there isn’t any absolute being that defines absolute morality (true). But of course, instead of simply pointing out (again and again) that the lack of an absolute moral does not mean that we cannot find good (but not absolute) morality systems of our own, we can try to see where this „absolute morality“ thing leads us…

Ok, let’s start with something simple: Let’s imagine that there is indeed some divine being that created the universe and everything else. Millions of believers claim to do it, so it can’t be that hard. Ok, so what „attributes“ can we give this divine being?

Omnipotence? Well, that’s pretty much a given, at least in the context of the universe. He (let’s imagine it’s a him) has created the universe, so he can probably do pretty much everything with or in it, which is omnipotent enough for me.

Omnisentience? That’s not as easy – for example, we can define a simple system based on very simple rules, but we don’t have any clue how it will look in 1000 turns. But, for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that our divine being (now I feel like he needs a name, but that would probably lead to far, so let’s not go there, otherwise I sense the first religious schism coming in the comments), knows pretty much everything about this universe.

So let’s come the big question: Does this divine being have to be „good“?

First question: How would we know? By whose standard? Our own? That would be pretty circular. He is good, because he fulfills the same standards that he has given this universe? Nope, sorry, not good enough. Or could there be an outside standard to measure him against? Well, perhaps, nothing in our attributes prevent him from being only one of many gods and this universe his personal toy, but he himself being bound by higher laws. But can we know that? Nope. So, to make it short: Asking if our divine being is good is completely nonsense: We don’t even have an idea how to define the answer.

Ok, so let’s ask a little differently: Does our divine being have to be benevolent? Does he have to like us, to have our best interests in mind? Well, obviously, look around, not our direct best interests in this life (otherwise, there wouldn’t be people who suffer just for having the bad luck to be born in the wrong country) but perhaps something like our best interests in the afterlife? Ok, except for the hell-thingy, which is not quite nice. But let’s ask the question… Does he HAVE to be benevolent? And the answer is quite simple: No, of course not. Unlike omnipotence, benevolence does not come with the whole „created the universe“ act. He has to be omnipotent, granted, but he does not have to be NICE. The universe could be his idea of a joke. Or he likes to see humans suffer. Or he doesn’t care and the universe was created for a specific earthworm, living on another planet, with humans just being a mere side effect of the laws of physics that will allow the worm to be born in 10 millions years.
We would have to believe that, because we are told that. But what’s the proof? We don’t know it for sure. Perhaps the divine being lied to us and just wants to see us suffer and thinks it hilarious that we believe he likes us at the same time? We simply can’t know.

So, let’s ask about the absolute morality… Let’s assume for a moment, that the morality, this divine being has chosen for us, is absolute (at least, for this universe). What would that mean? Does that mean, it’s good? No, because, as with the being itself, against what could we measure it? Does it have to be good for us? No, of course not. Why should it have to be? In the end, this „absolute morality“ is nothing more than „Do it, because divine being wants it!“. And we cannot know that this „absolute morality“ is really „good“, we cannot even know that it is meant to be benevolent towards us.

So, what is better? Trying to find a way to be a „good“ person, based on, for example, the happiness of other people, or to blindly follow the dictate of the divine being, without even knowing if it’s a god way? Of course, religious people will now claim that this divine being simply knows best – but we can’t know that. Perhaps, yes. But we can’t know that. So, believing in absolute morality is simply hoping for the best, that some old rules, written down by people long dead, claiming to be the wishes of a divine being whose real motives we cannot know, are really good for us. Honestly? I take reason every day over that.

And then there’s the simple problem, that this divine being probably doesn’t even exist…


4 Kommentare zu “Is absolute morality good?

  1. Assuming you’re right, and there is no way of know if God is good or not, you can’t actually say that we know anything. You, for example, can’t say that any shred of scientific evidence for anything is worth anything because it could all be a malicious God having a joke at our expense, tricking us into thinking we know stuff.

    Interesting post, one that raises more questions than answers and one that can actually challenge everyone to reassess if they know anything for a fact, even atheists like yourself.

    You’ve highlighted the troubling point that absolutely nothing can be known for certain.

    • You nailed it. Don’t you know the old saying „I know, that I know nothing.“? Honestly, the whole thing – and your reply – shows one thing: Absolute morality is absolutely meaningless to us. Even if it exists, we cannot know it. Even if we assume, a god exists, we can try to do everything it tells us to (of course, the christian good seems to have fun making this pretty hard by not saying anything clearly and changing the rules from time to time), but this may or may not have something to do with absolute morality. You would be god’s slave, but does that make you a moral person?
      So, the search for an absolute morality is doomed from the start. In the end, you have to realize, that you have to think for yourself and search for non-absolute morality. And this is where I am going: You CAN try to define non-absolute morality, for example by thinking about how to reach the maximum amount of happiness for everyone. Or the most stable society. Or something else. Non of these solutions will have any claim to being „absolute“, but only believers seen to NEED that claim. And this is, what I wanted to show: This claim is bullshit.

      • I like that quote. It’s a tough thing to comprehend fully, simply because it means we cannot take any ‚knowledge‘ for granted. The beliefs that we both have would be seen by many as poles apart, yet in reality, both our beliefs (and everyone else’s) take equal amounts of faith. To be honest, a lot of things we take for granted, like most of the education system, would have to be scrapped if we all truly lived by the principle that we know nothing. It’s a mind-boggling and challenging concept to consider!

      • This is, where you are wrong. Just because our knowledge is not perfect does not mean, that there aren’t different levels of knowledge. Believing that a wizard created the world because some bronze age guys wrote it in a book more than 2.000 years ago is still pretty much at the bottom, sorry. I’ll stay with the scientic theories, because at least, they can be tested. At least these theories work, while religion does nothing at all.

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