It continues to amaze me just how indelibly the Law is written onto human hearts. What follows is an old blog comment written by an atheist who was becoming disgruntled with the rather pusillanimous way his fellows were intellectually engaging theists. I find it fascinating not merely in what it means for atheistic ethics, but for human nature.
[To] all my Atheist friends.
Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.
We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.
We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.
I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.
In a way, his candor is refreshing. When today’s atheists begin organizing quasi-churches immediately followed by becoming schismatics and basically try to practice Christian morality minus chastity, one longs for the days of serious atheists who realized that if God is dead then, everything is permitted.
But the fool who says in his heart that there is no God can only be so honest, even with himself.
The commentator (called “John” by the Christian who highlighted it) claims that, “My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.” There is, however, at least one more blatantly obvious directive that he fails to notice. The entire comment is dedicated to rejecting it, but he nevertheless doggedly pursues it even while running away—it is that inherent to who he is as a human being.
I am speaking, of course, of the directive to judge—to hold oneself and others up to a moral standard and declare some satisfactory and others wanting. It is specifically this behavior for which he derides his fellow atheists. After all, they have accepted that while “concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not.” Nevertheless, he sees other atheists adhering to such illusions at every turn. He writes, “We too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish.” He chides them for fooling themselves in such a way, and sums it up thusly:
So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.
That seems to put a neatly blunt bow on the whole package, and yet… he himself is chiding his fellow atheists for not being good enough. He believes they don’t measure up to a standard because they are being hypocritical and inconsistent. He thinks this makes them inferior and himself more “evolved.” He likewise thinks this behavior does a disservice to theists—almost as though knowing the truth were some kind of universal good. While I suspect he could not help dissembling about it, any honest observer will recognize the moral implications of his words. He is, in effect, telling them that they are being immoral by pretending morality exists, so they ought to stop. This makes him no less hypocritical and no less moralistic than the ones he judges.
Underscoring the moral implications is the fact that he is so blatantly incorrect about his self-righteous judgment of being more “evolved” than all the lesser atheists who haven’t caught up to him yet (to say nothing of the theists!) Unless he is miraculously prognosticating, our supposed evolution can only be charted by what came before, not by our guesses of what will come afterward. And yet, based on the only data we have, illusions of morality are clearly more evolved, for we have them and none of our ancestors do—not even the apes. As the commentator himself notes, even most atheists have moved on from the absence of moral illusions—they’ve just made up their own. Likewise, the presence of myths and holy books mark humanity alone, and none of our pre-human ancestors. Even in the most recent of evolutionary history, when chance and random mutation spawned atheists, it did not take long for natural selection to choose those who ape Christians with atheist churches and so forth. This makes the kind of moral nihilism he advocates less evolved—not more.
But being an atheist while pretending there’s morality is so inconsistent! Perhaps John would claim that his genes cry out for consistency as well, but why should genes yearn for consistency when “the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident” and “All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself?” Surely it would be inconsistent even for our genes to be consistent. And if we once again try to fall back on being more “evolved,” then we once again cannot help that the “most evolved” creatures would be less consistent, as no species other than human have such concerns at all. The ape acting like an ape is consistent. Only the human trying to convince humans to act like apes is being inconsistent. When Nietzsche tried to take his atheism seriously, he decided that all that remains to a man is laughter or silence. But even he was not serious enough, for there is no standard by which laughter of silence might be deemed superior to any other alternative.
Though atheists like John yearn to be serious about their atheism, their drive to do so leads them only to the hypocritical impossibility of it all—or to the utter end of anything we could call “thought.” One bedrock fact remains: like all of us, John must judge. And if we must judge, then we ought to judge well rather than poorly. No matter how hypocritical he is being about it, John’s judgment that things like consistency and the adherence of mind to fact are important is a good judgment. If we cannot help but believe a moral standard exists, but atheism means that no such moral standard exists, then the incompatibility of atheism with human nature is clear. And so, even after stripping humanity down to bags of DNA driven to eat, sleep, mate, and die, a single choice tenaciously clings to the atheist: either embrace his indelible drive towards consistency or continue being an atheist. He cannot do both.