The bold Stefan Molyneux tackles head-on one of the more nagging issues which acts as a sea anchor to atheism, namely, if there is no God, why be good.
I confess to being quite a fan of his. He has the skills and temper of a philosopher, and so in him I see a kindred spirit, if not a long lost brother.
Mr Molyneux is a thinker. His breed is rare, and we are sorely in need of more like him.
More than a thinker. In this podcast he utters the code by which he and I and all our brethren live: “I am a philosopher. I go where the truth leads.”
Pause a moment in wonder and admiration. It is because of words like this that Aquinas is given a crown by the archangels of the heaven of the Sun, and Socrates is given a cup by the man of the world.
The man who speaks thus thirsts for the nectar of truth and the wine of the gods, and no untruth or half-truth, howsoever pleasing or convenient or expeditious, will slake that thirst.
Let no one pretend that any disagreement with his conclusions are offered in anything other than as respectful tone, and from a man who honestly admires intellectual integrity wherever it is found.
He proposes, as all atheists of goodwill must, that there are sufficient reasons found in the rational self interest of men living in society to prompt conformity to certain basic standards of behavior.
He says he has written a book length treatment of the question which faithfully discharges his duty to address this question, and I place sufficient faith in his statement that I take him as this word.
An aside: My faith is not blind faith, of course. There is no such thing. Just as the phrase “blind justice” refers to an irrational injustice, the phrase “blind faith” refers to an irrational infidelity: putting trust in an authority experience has shown to be untrustworthy.
Whenever a man trusts a promise, or believes a statement about an event to which he himself is not an eyewitness, he makes an assessment of the character of the witness, looks at any supporting physical evidence, and judges the feasibility of the unseen event happening as described according to his model of how the world works and according to his assessment of what is how likely events in the same category as the described event happen to be.
For the record, “faith” is trusting in one’s the conclusions of one’s serene reason once one’s serenity has fled. End of aside.
While endless local variations on the theme are possible, Eudaemonism or Stoicism are only two possible alternatives to a divine mandate for obedience to virtue. The first grounds virtue in enlightened self interest and the proportional pursuit of reasonable pleasures, the second in universal moral duty whose principles are self evident.
Morality exists because our reason tells us we should not behave merely according to our impulses, but it is so difficult to abide purely by reason and resist all temptation that there is no report of any human being ever having had done so.
Hence, only two logical alternatives exist if the moral law is not the deliberate legislative fiat of a divine creator: either we should act as reason dictates rather than as pleasure tempts us because in the long run, with delayed gratification, more pleasure and more wholesome pleasures are to be gained (Eudaemonism) or we should act as reason dictates whether it is pleasant or not (Stoicism). The option of obeying all impulses is illogical, since all that happens when one pursues pleasure for its own sake is that one trains oneself so that unwholesome impulses replace wholesome ones.
Neither is difficult to defend on purely secular grounds, with no gods needed.
Ayn Rand wrote out a defense of Eudaemonism that is firmly in the tradition of Aristotle and the Enlightenment political thinkers; Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus of Stoicism, as well as Lucretius, and countless others. I myself wrote enough material to fill a book on exactly that point back when I was an atheist, so I know it can be done.
So I believe he can invent a sound secular justification for obedience to the moral laws of the cosmos which hypothesis no divine origin, authority, mandate, or enforcement of said laws. That is not my point of dispute.
I dispute when he says this:
“The purpose of religion is to give less intelligent people a reason to confine their behavior.”
One can hear the statement in context here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZckFu2txV0&ab_channel=StefanMolyneux) under the provocative title Why Atheists Suck.
I address the words below to him:
This is such an outrageous mis-statement of what we Christians say the purpose of religion is, my dear Mr. Molyneux, that I cannot tell from your delivery if you mean this line sarcastically or literally or what. Read the remainder of this entry »