Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fight Club Discussion Continued

Reflecting on a comment string summarized here.

Josh at Thoughts from Kansas reacted strongly to the assumption that without a belief in God living "in this mad world would be hypocritical, and a waste of air." (Quote from James Harleman reviewing the movie Fight Club.)

The reviewer is basically building a syllogism and claiming that it proves atheists are really amoral. It goes something like this:

We do things because they are good
God tells us what's good
Without God, we would not do good things

The implication is then that atheists are only kept from mass slaughter by rigidly enforced laws and what the reviewer refers to as "soft, archaic, religion-inspired morals." I don't quite see how we make that leap, either.

Now I agree that it seems a stretch to suggest that the only logical thing for athiests to do is to throw off all moral restraint (as Tyler Durden does in the movie). And I can see how Josh might believe this (albeit an extreme example, in my opinion) about those who hold that view: "These are the people that think that if they evolved from a primate ancestor, then they might as well tear open people's chests and feed on their still warm organs."

Nevertheless, I think the intent of the argument is that there is a moral basis for all of our actions, attitudes, and perspectives. And the question is, as Josh rightly points out in his post, What is the genesis of this moral foundation?

Josh would say (correct me if I'm misstating this) that the issue of the existence of God is neither here nor there. Morality could be a natural, evolutionary development for the protection and propogation of the species. One need not believe in heaven or hell to behave one's self. In fact, Josh goes further and believes "that a morality that exists only because you're afraid of punishment here or in eternity is an inauthentic morality."

I don't necessarily believe this. I figure at times it's whatever gets the job done. A radar gun in a speed trap is reason enough for me to brake my behavior. However, this probably isn't the most laudable rationale for being good. Just because I don't want to get caught cheating is not a commendable basis for obeying the law. However, it doesn't make it inauthentic. It just proves we have a conscience.

So this takes us back to the question, why do good? While the Christian who proclaims that athiests are being "hypocritical and wasting air" overstates the case, the point is still this: We act morally because we are moral creatures. Even athiests. And since we only act in accordance with our beliefs, and since the vast majority of us are fairly decent, law abiding human beings, then it seems reasonable to assume that almost everyone, whether consciously or unconsciously, holds to a moral standard that is outside themselves.

So maybe a better syllogism would be this:
We do good things because they are good.
We have an awareness of what is good.
Without this awareness, we would not do good things.

And maybe Josh would agree with my revamped reasoning. For it seems to allow a natural, evolutionary basis for morality. I guess we'll need to explore this further, but my contention is that this awareness is from God. And athiests, whether they admit it or not, are acting in accordance with a practical belief that God exists. They are practical theists by their actions.

UPDATE (8/3/06) - Great comments in the comment section regarding whether morality is taught or innate. And Then I Woke Up devoted an entry to address this issue. Here's a sample:
Does this mean that there aren't some people who are not believers who are good people? No. As Francis Schaeffer put it, there are some who are less scarred by the fall. Many people adhere to the majority of principles from God's law and do good things and are good people, but even still, that morality is not from themselves, it's from a (perhaps subconsious) acknowledgement of the laws of God.

UPDATE (8/6/06) - Josh of Thoughts from Kansas responds with More on Fight Club.


  1. Behavior within the group is dictated by acceptance of that group. And solitary humans are removed from the gene pool in one generation for lack of a mate. Members of the group don't like being killed and having their warm gooey parts eaten, so they don't tolerate those that do. Doesn't take long for mothers to teach their children not to do that because she doesn't want to see them killed for such behavior.

    The atheist position is that god was created as an aid to mothers in this quest, because the bogeyman under the bed didn't always work. I find it hard to believe any one with children could believe good behavior is anything other than a taught/learned phenomenon.

  2. Oooh Fight Club is one of my favorite movies (yes, it's quite disturbing, but the plot is so twistedly unpredictable, it's well acted, and it has so many great lines).

    Tyler Durden, the all dancing all knowing crap of the world, is the figment of a deranged mind so I'm not sure how much stock I put in his thought process as it pertains to existentialism.

    While I'm not an athiest, I'm not sure that all the credit for good behavior goes directly to God. I believe we are an evolved society where social acceptance and interaction is a form of survival of the fittest. I also believe that most people are inherently good and want to do right by others, not just for the potential rewards that could come from it.

    And I also believe congratulations are in order, Lyn, as you made it to the finals in this week's caption contest! You're turn to shamelessly promote yourself, my friend. :)

  3. I have children.

    Did they show up well behaved or did you have to teach them?

  4. All right, Tommy, I'm game. I was just teasing earlier, but yes, I try to teach my children a certain morality. However, that does not preclude the idea that people are born with an innate sense of right and wrong.

    Now Beth (in the haloscan comment) argues that we are not born moral (as in good) and to that I would agree - ie, while most people are "nice" rather than "nasty", because of our sin nature we are not born with perfect morals (which I believe is Beth's point here).

    That being said, your original comment about good behavior, in my opinion, has as much to do with a God-given conscience as it does with a mom teaching about the bogeyman. One does not exclude the other. More on this later. Thanks for getting my brain synapses firing. lol, lgp


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)