Borrowed Capital

Phil Zuckerman published on an article entitled Imagine No Religion: Can Society Be Successful Without It?; where he gleefully imagines a society whose citizens have little or no interest in religion.  It is “a place where almost no one ever goes to church, the majority of people do not believe in God, and among those who do, their belief is fairly watery and thin. Imagine a society where people see Jesus as perhaps a nice man who taught some nice things, but was certainly not a miracle-performing son of any god.” where, “almost everyone accepts the evidence supporting evolution, almost everyone knows that the Bible was written by humans”.  If the thought of a Shangri-La such as this actually existing gives you the Chris Matthews shiver, you’re in luck, I suppose, Zuckerman says Denmark is the place for you.

Zuckerman seems to work from the presumption that his “religion is, and breeds irrationality” belief is shared by nearly everyone, well, everyone who is smart enough to “know” there is no God.

I think Zuckerman’s first mistake comes from a misunderstanding that morals and values are relative, either culturally or individually.  He is not the only one, many atheists believe this, in fact, they must, to hold on to their materialistic worldview.  Morality cannot be absolute in an atheistic universe.  If the physical is all there is, just particles, the idea of there being something right and wrong is absurd.  After all, trees do not do any thing right or wrong, neither do rocks, or clouds for that matter.  Under the naturalistic paradigm, in perspective, people are nothing more than rocks and trees, we are simply a different kind of matter.  In this respect, morality is what we say it is, something invented not discovered. 

If morality is free to be invented, it is free to be changed.  Nothing is ever truly right or wrong, we simply have opinions and preferences of particular actions.  But most people understand this is simply not true, I could not convince myself rape is a good thing.  And Zuckerman would likely object to someone skipping ahead in line or attempting to steal his wallet. In reality, for the relativist to object to such practices is contradictory to their worldview, and in fact true relativists cannot live consistently. The most they could do is merely disagree with the line cutter or thief. “Well his morality dictates that line cutting and wallet stealing is ok, who am I to argue?” Any other response exposes the relativist as an objectivist. Without the objectivity of moral values, it’s all just opinion. The only resolution of the matter comes down to brute force, who can muscle their values upon the other, and even that cannot be said to be wrong. The fact that people may have disagreements as to what is right and wrong does not mean real right and wrong does not exist.  Hopefully in this Denmarkian utopia, atheism does not become a capital offense.  With no transcendent standard morality it is all just an opinion poll, and you have no right to complain if the poll is no longer in your favor.

Likewise, life has no true meaning within a naturalistic paradigm. Sure you and I may think we are doing something meaningful, but since we all end up as worm food, every “good” and “meaningful” thing we do is all just an illusion. Sure we may be personally comforted by thoughts that we make a difference, but according to the atheistic materialism, we are simply interrupting the flow of molecules, hardly a noble work. Our making a difference in another’s life is akin to making a difference to the sand, or grass, it is meaningless in the end.

Zuckerman goes on to glory in all the greatness which Denmark provides its citizens. At the doctor “There was no wait…professional yet easy-going, and it was totally free. Health care here is universal, state-run, tax-subsidized, and it couldn’t be better”. And not a death panel anywhere to be found boasts Zuckerman. He goes on, “the county provides taxi service…free of charge…drivers are unionized…well paid, have excellent benefits, [and] ample vacation time”. Wow, this does sound great, I wonder how this is all possible.

Denmark is currently the highest taxed country in the world. Its citizens pay upwards of 63% individual income tax, 8% payroll tax, and a 25% corporate tax, (which everyone knows the consumer pays, it is passed along in the price of the product just as other expenses such as salaries, utilities, and other costs of business) and to top it off, a 25% value added tax, or VAT(1). Free indeed. Nothing is free, the citizens of Denmark pay for everything, heavily. There is no need reach in your pocket for cash at the point of service because the government has already reached into your paycheck. This is the short sightedness of those who champion “free” universal health care.

In the end, Zuckerman and the moral relativist must live on borrowed capital, both from the theist and the capitalist. Socialism is great, until you run out of other people’s money, and atheism is fun until…well, you know. Nothing in life is free, and deep down everyone knows this. Moral relativism is bankrupt, people who claim its truth never live it out consistently, just push your way ahead of one in line.

Related articles: Natural Blindness, Pay Up!, Who Needs Morality?


  1. OK, you use a lot of fallacious reasoning here and fail to at any point prove the existence of an absolute morality. The best you manage is saying that deep down we know there is one, or intuitively there is one. This obviously in no way proves that it actually exists.You also fail to justify your rejection of moral relativism, instead you only give some silly made up example to suit your agenda.

    You say that right and wrong are absurd to atheist materialists. That is simply untrue, atheists can base their ideas of right and wrong through reasoning and logic free from any religious doctrine in any way, based on the simple premise that suffering is bad and long-lasting happiness is good for example.

    I think it is highly simplistic to think that if you don’t have an absolute morality, you cannot argue against your example of someone stealing. I also don’t think that an absolute morality is a desirable thing if you were to take it directly from the bible. I mean you can pick and choice certain moral advice that applies today in modern society like don’t steal and don’t kill etc.. however you luckily you wouldn’t follow the moral advice the bible gives like that a woman should be stoned to death if she was not a virgin prior to marriage or capital punishment for working on Sunday!

    If you look at how moral standards have evolved over the last centuries we have new forms of moral standards that were completely secularly developed. Namely, the equal rights of woman, equal rights of homosexuals, removal of all sorts of punishments like burning at the stake, hanging and other forms of capital punishment as well as torture. All these new moral rules have been developed independently of religion.

    Atheists can create their own meaning in life which doesn’t depend on dogma from a religious text written by a selection of random people who constantly contradict each other.

    • Richard

      Thanks for your reply. I’ll first mention that I have addressed your concerns in many previous posts and will only summarize here, if you don’t mind.

      In a godless universe, only preference and group vote determine what is preferable and what is not. There exists no mechanism to oblige anyone to behave beyond a temporal “punishment”, i.e., jail, loss of friends/family, personal shame, etc. What you end up getting is a form of utilitarianism, which isnt morality, its what achieves the greater good based on what the people happen to decide what good is. In this way its not even good in a moral sense, its good in the sense that it achieves a desired end, like moves in chess can be good or bad, but not moral or immoral.

      Materialism or naturalism cannot deal with morality, which is a non-physical thing. On the naturalistic view, everything in the universe is chemistry and molecules. There exists no framework to determine one interaction of molecules and chemicals is “good” and another is “bad”, so what law of physics says burning a child with a cigarette is bad while burning magnesium over a bunson burner is good, or morally neutral? Science is not equipped to even deal with the non-physical. FYI, logic doesnt tell you anything about morality, logic is a process of thought, it has no informing content. Logic is to thinking what math is to numbers. Its a process.

      Sure you could argue against it, but its your own personal preference. Who are you to say that stealing is wrong? How do you get that from a Godless framework? Having no transcendent standard maker or ultimate consequence for your actions means you are only limited by your own limits, which really arent limits if you can move the goal posts.

      Of course Atheists can create their own purpose, thats the point. There is no actual real purpose, you must assign a purpose based on what you like and what you don’t, what you want to achieve and what you don’t. But its not a real purpose, its illusory and self granted. I can create my own money too, but that doesnt give my money any real value. But an economy outside myself which trades on a standard of value is necessary to assign value to items, such as currency or gold.

      Browse through the Atheism tab above, it’s an index of posts dealing with why I believe Atheist arguments and objections fail.


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