I've left church, and I'm concerned with some things now.

Hello to all TA inhibitors. Hope everyone is having a great 2012 so far. 

Late last month I posted a blog about me thinking about leaving a church group I was attending for almost a year. Well, I've left. I haven't ditched anyone's friendship since I still enjoy their company very much. I've told a few people whom I were close to in the church group about my departure. Some of the things they've said to me are things I'm very curious in learning about. One of my friends stated the following: Atheists have no foundation of morality, but since many of them are moral, that is just God working through them. Another one of my friends stated the following: Since Atheists are morally anarchic, I am not a true Atheist, but a Christian in denial (I guess?) about the Truth of God.

There's a few things in these statements that interest me: (1) moral foundation(s) of Atheism; (2) Christian concept of free will; (3) any/all logical fallacies that may be at work here.

Looking for some tips on how to go about tackling these issues. If anyone could help me in any way, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for reading,

- Branden 

Views: 561

Comment by Simon Paynton on January 11, 2012 at 10:30am

Rich Hugunine said:

Christians can logically claim the "moral" ground to do anything they pretty much want to do

Sadly, in the UK, this seems to be very common, and it's why I am suspicious when I meet a Christian.  I am glad to say that I have also seen Christians sincerely ask "what would Jesus do?" with great integrity.  

Branden, regarding atheism and its moral basis, I have been doing some work on this problem over Christmas.  (also, all my life.)  Specifically, an "objective morality".  I intended to post this on the discussion I was involved in then - "Atheists cannot be moral" - but it's gone!  Oh well.  

I thought the best thing is to present a "finished", "complete" version of the theory.  As it turned out, this was very useful in making me develop the ideas.  So, here it is - 4 pages of 12-point Times New Roman in .pdf.  


I am sincerely looking for thoughts and comments.  Please pick it to pieces.  

Here are the web sites I looked at in the course of doing the work:  


Comment by Paul Jones on January 11, 2012 at 11:44am

I've had a look at what you've written and it makes sense. My comment, and it's an observation not a criticism of what you have written would be that we already have a secular moral code don't we? It's called "the law". Speaking from a UK perspective, it does not require you to be religious - it may have Judeo-Christian roots, but affirmation of the truth of evidence can be confirmed without recourse to the bible. It's the product of a democracy so it's moral basis is "most people agree that the basic principles are right", not "some god said we have to do it".

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 12, 2012 at 11:48pm

Hey Simon,


Sorry about that, the "atheists cannot be moral" thread was deleted by ... urs truly. Reading your link now ...


- kk

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 13, 2012 at 12:30am

Hey Simon,


Here's my first pass on your doc:

We need to present a theory which makes sense to people 

This is a big deal, especially for deconversion, which is my angle on this. I’ve developed one based on the 4 Fs of biology and it is similar to the Singer view, but I don’t think it is very “portable” in the sense that it can be easily adopted by people. For one thing, it denies morality and says that it is a myth. Then it concludes that all we can hope for are laws that, interestingly, can only be treated as objective amongst human beings (you mention this restriction later). So, as for a “true” moral system in which objective value is derived, I flunked.

But I should expand on this. I was looking for an objective basis for assessing “value”, the “oughts”. That is how I operationally defined “morality” when I started. What I found was that you can’t really have a truly objective basis for this, only one that is objective with respect to human beings.

And yea, as you said, I tried to then isolate constructs that met two criteria simultaneously:

1.)  things that are “facts” we can be confident are common to all human beings (and are thus objective with respect to all human beings)

2.)  things that are “facts” that we can be confident all human beings place a positive value upon.

By doing this, I solve the value from fact dilemma because I’ve isolated facts that are simultaneously “values” that all human beings view as such. So, value is “derived” by identity.

And these facts/values are the 4 Fs of Biology, which biologists have expanded upon for us:

1.)   Allowing for/guaranteeing and enabling all the ways one might want to mate or simulate the act through sexual relations, regardless of kind, scope, extent or type (qualified against 4 in fl). A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their human sexuality, regardless of kind.

2.)   Allowing for/guaranteeing and promoting one’s capacity to be a “financially productive” (this phrase has a specific statutory meaning in fl) entity. A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their capacity for livelihood, regardless of kind.

3.)   Allowing for/guaranteeing space, sovereignty of abode, and a viable guarantee of housing for all with no homelessness. A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their right to be secure in shelter whose space they control, regardless of kind.

4.)   Supporting/guaranteeing individual safety and the personal boundaries that speak to it; even if to some degree if by perception only (to be expounded upon). A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their general safety and reasonable sense thereof, regardless of kind. Numerous human rights come out of this – see Article 7.

 This all sounded great until I realized that, because the objectivity of this is limited human beings, it isn't really the objective morals I was thinking of. I posted on my blog about this here.


Hi all,

A friend of mine read my latest ongoing project, On the Means and Methods of Mass Deconversion, and had some constructive comments that served to advance my thinking on this subject a bit more.

The subject is morality – and whether atheists can be moral. I’ve posted here before on that topic. And in that post I discussed the views of Sam Harris on this matter; suggesting that he had equated “value” and “fact” incorrectly. Well, my friend, GR, challenged me on that claim, so I’ve put together a more complete description of the Harris talk given at Oxford last year and have decided to

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 13, 2012 at 12:30am

decided to post it here. It will appear in Version 0.7 (the next version) of the project I linked to above.

from On the Means and Methods of Mass Deconversion:

” … A friend of mine had considerable difficulty accepting this fact. These statements were made by Harris at a talk he held with Dawkins at Oxford in 2011. The video was released on youtube and I will reference the run times here.

My friend stated that, “i didn’t see at any point where he said that facts and values are one in the same.”

But it is there. At 7:14 Sam Harris: “… It is thought that there are two quantities in this world, there are facts on the one hand and there are values on the other. And it is imagined that these two are discrete entities that can’t be understood in monistic terms and it is imagined that science can’t say anything about value …”

At 10:10 Sam Harris: “I am going to argue that this split between facts and values is an illusion. And my claim is that values are a certain kind of fact …”

No, they are not.

If you are objecting because this is not exactly the same thing as “one in the same” then I think you are nitpicking and not seeing the point. The point is that he is using this statement “values are a certain kind of fact” to bridge those concepts, which is precisely what Hume was saying you cannot do; that is, you cannot derive an ought from an is. So, this statement of Harris’ is fallacious. Values are not fact … at all. He either does not understand the difference or is being dishonest.

At 11:25 he does use this “worst possible misery” argument, but I’ve also disproved that (infra).

So, between these two statements, first about values and facts and then about misery, he never is able to form a basis for deriving value, which is my point, and which is the presenting challenge.

My friend commented, “values can be facts but not all facts are values”.

I don’t know what he meant by that and I disagree. Values are not facts … period. These are two completely different concepts. By definition, a value is subjective and a fact is objective, for starters.

I found myself wondering if he understood that the term “value” here is not being used in the numeric sense. It sounded like he didn’t. He then went on:

“… though facts can lead to values.”

which then led me to think that he just doesn’t understand the difference between these two terms. Facts cannot “lead to values” … that is the whole point Hume was making.

Therefore, what he and Harris are doing, if this is really their position, is novel. They are actually arguing that Hume’s claim about not being able to derive value from fact is just not true; without providing any reason for why it is not true.

But it gets worse. Harris apparently doesn’t seem to understand that the semantics of “ought” and “is” are just a language substitution for “value” and “fact” because; at one point in the video he discusses value and fact, then later discusses “ought” and “is” as if these are two completely different discussions. And when he does get to the “ought” and “is” discussion he fumbles again. At 16:15 he says, “I happen to think that this is a trick of language … that … this notion of “ought”, falls very much into Vickensteins notion of philosophy as a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language …”

Well, I agree, I think it is a trick of language, but not for the same reasons that Harris thinks.

And now we get to the punch line. GR then asked what I thought of Peter Singer’s view of atheistic morality.  I’m no expert on this guy but I think he reached the same conclusion that I did; that “morality” can only be defined in terms of what nature built us for – although we don’t agree entirely on exactly how nature built us. And that really isn’t “morality” in my mind. It is e

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 13, 2012 at 12:32am

system of ethics upon which we can derive the boundaries by which we all agree to live by, which is all we really need. And those boundaries are the basis of law, which never had anything to do with “morals”, trust me.

So, I guess GR hadn’t gotten to the end of that section I was writing because he didn’t realize that, at the end of the day, I don’t believe “morality” is a valid construct to start with. “Morality” is just one more tool, another public myth, in the toolbox of the religious masters for rendering populations subservient, docile and malleable, imo.

Since even theists cannot claim an objective morality (see my explanation in the linked project above) and since you cannot derive value from fact except by the inherent nature of human beings itself, “morality” is a fiction created by religion. So, GR, there is your answer. No, atheists cannot be moral. In fact, no one can because “morality” is a myth to start with.

This I explained in more detail in a comment:

... So, I thought I would clarify what I mean by Singer’s “morality” and how I see that term. What I am saying, which is clearer if you read my entire treatment of this subject, is that we can derive a system, call it “morals” if you like, that is objective within human society, that is, strictly amongst human beings. And that is all that matters for us. And *that* is what I call “ethics” in the sense that it only prescribes a pragmatic way that human beings can live together and cooperate, without placing any “value” on those pragmatic boundaries, and satisfy the things that all human beings biologically (and objectively) value. And those boundaries are what we call “law”.

So, as a member of this hypothetical society, I do not need to place any “value” on a particular more, I only need to understand that all human beings are guaranteed to value that particular more because of their biological makeup. If, and I stress if, we can find such mores, we have a system of law we can use that is not “moral” in the sense that we place no premium on it identifying “value”. But it is a system of agreeable rule of law nonetheless.

So, why is this not morality?

Well, given all this,

I can say that all humans will value x, but I cannot say that x is generally valuable.

This renders my entire system one of pragmatism, something I can use to come up with rules and laws that are rational, but not "moral". My conclusion is that "morality" is therefore, a myth, just like the "gods" that are supposed have access to it.

The values we choose must obviously be of the most general kind – otherwise they will not be

universal to the species and therefore, technically, will not have the ultimate authority we are

looking for.

This was my strategy as well, which led me to those biological “values” universal in the homo sapiens.

In fact, that's where most previous attempts fall down in my opinion – they try and prescribe too

much high-level detail, and high-level detail varies too much in validity to qualify for the authority

of universality. Also – they're so dull. Nobody's going to read and remember all those wordy

pompous sentences and complicated concepts. Therefore, nice effort, but they're fucking useless.

This is a rare insight. Most people don’t appreciate this but you are exactly right. We have to have something that the Machiavellian can actually make use of.

Who needs a theory of objective morality? Who cares?

We need one because:

• atheism looks silly without one and loses authority

• very occasionally, a person will lose his or her entire moral compass, and it turns out to be

very difficult to function without one. The most common instance o

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 13, 2012 at 12:32am


someone de-converts from religion.

Nice. That is why I’m into this.

My conclusion is that, since:

I can say that all humans will value x, but I cannot say that x is generally valuable.

We need a way to package this fact to the public that is simple and clear, and not a put off. I don't know if that is possible.

- kk

Comment by Simon Paynton on January 13, 2012 at 12:28pm

Thanks very much for giving it your full and frank attention Kir!  I'll get stuck into all that right now. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on January 13, 2012 at 4:01pm

Hi Kir,

just to respond to the first part of your reply.

So, as for a “true” moral system in which objective value is derived, I flunked.

If you call it a "true" moral system in which objectve value is derived, I think that you are confusing a property which belongs to the "dead" part of the universe (scientific measurability) with a value judgement, moral "truth", which is a property belonging to the living world on planet Earth - and is, in fact, vague anyway.  Just what do we mean by moral truth?  We need to clarify and spell it out closely if we are to get anywhere.  To use "moral truth" in a philosophical argument doesn't work because the phrase doesn't carry any solid meaning.  

I think it would be more correct to say "a valid form of objectivity" rather than "a true morality".  This allows for multiple species of objectivity which are different from each other, although equally invincible in authority, and equally clear-cut, within their own particular contexts.  

So, as for a “true” moral system in which objective value is derived, I flunked.

Objective value doesn't exist, Kir.  Except for numbers (...?).  A number is a factual object which is also a value.  Otherwise, value is something that living beings, most notably human beings, give to objective reality.  Nothing else that we know about is able to ascribe "value" to "facts".  Only living beings on planet Earth are able to do this - that we know about at the present time.  The "dead" part of the universe, which is what we see everywhere else apart from the living world on planet Earth, does not have any kind of brain or feelings or consciousness and is not alive.  You need those things if you are to ascribe value to objective reality.  

Morality is a value system.  That's why an objective morality can only apply to and originate from living creatures.  Within the rules of being a living creature, I contend that the morality I have given is objective according to all the necessary rules, at least within the realm of human beings: its foundations are themselves objective facts and reasonable clearly-stated assumptions; in practice, within its applicable domain, it is "true everywhere", it has invincible authority, and it is clear-cut.  Things do change a little when it comes to our dealings with other species, but most if not all of the original morality can still be said to apply in some form to the way in which we treat animals and the ecosystem.  

I was looking for an objective basis for assessing “value”, the “oughts”.

But I define a "value" as something which a human being "feels", and "ought" is something which a human being "does".  

So value and ought are two different things: motive and behaviour.  

I solve the value from fact dilemma because I’ve isolated facts that are simultaneously “values” that all human beings view as such. So, value is “derived” by identity.

You've isolated four facts which are fundamentally common to probably all human beings.  Perhaps it is true that some of the values we ascribe to those universal facts are able to achieve the attribute of moral objectivity.  If we are to look for this, then again we need to spell out and justify exactly how we think objectivity is achieved in this case.  It is just not true in my opinion to say that these four facts are simultaneously "values" - because facts are not values, period.  To say that is vague and mixed-up. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on January 13, 2012 at 4:32pm

Kir -

the semantics of “ought” and “is” are just a language substitution for “value” and “fact”


Given a situation existing in objective reality,     ... IS ... FACT

is "ought" what we ought to FEEL about it, or     ... VALUE

is "ought" what we ought to DO about it?     ... OUGHT


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