Morality Without God? The Atheistic Failure.

Why the Aggressive Atheistic Propagandist Preachers Should Be Prepared to Admit Defeat.

It was Fyodor Dostoevsky who wrote,

"If there is no God, everything is permitted..." ('The Brothers Karamazov').

It has long been recognised and accepted by philosophers, theologians and anthropologists alike that widespread standards of morality have a Judeo/Christian foundation. Nobody seriously argued about this for centuries, even atheists reluctantly conceded the point. However, during the last approximately one hundred years certain atheists and agnostics have started to challenge this; this is especially so in the case of the new late twentieth century/early twenty-first century breed of aggressive, hate-filled and rather venomous propagandist atheists of the Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens/Jonathan Miller genre. Many of these people believe in a humanistic code of morality which they insist needs no theistic basis and they frequently make various claims in an attempt to divorce morality from its religious foundation.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980).

Jean Piaget was a Swiss philosopher, natural scientist and developmental psychologist, well known for his work studying children, his theory of cognitive development and for developing a view called "genetic epistemology". He created in 1955 the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva and directed it until 1980. He is considered to be a pioneer of 'Constructivist Knowing.' During the last few years certain of Piaget's claims regarding the behavioural patterns of children have been called into serious question.

An example of the typical sort of claims may be found in the essay 'Morality Without God' which appears, in unsigned form, on the website ( Here one may find some truly confused and wooly-minded reasoning, indeed, the typical reasoning espoused by those who want to acknowledge a standard of morality, but without acknowledging a God; in short, such individuals seek to uphold a godless morality, actually 'morality' has to be the wrong word in the case of such people so perhaps we should call it 'godless ethics.' I choose this essay for a critique because it advances most of the usual arguments. Here is some of the reasoning which may be discovered in this web article,

"...God is not required to explain moral systems. Yet the compassionate or just treatment of humans by their fellows who don't have to is one of the most compelling arguments ever offered for the existence of a just, compassionate God. To disagree with this, it is necessary to advance some alternative explanations. The following is a brief survey of some other theories of the origin of morality, followed by one of my own. Just as biological, psychological and sociological influences conspire to influence any other human behavior, the following theories don't seem to be mutually exclusive; they may all hold true simultaneously."

The writer then introduces some examples of where he (or, she) is going. Unfortunately, most of these examples almost amount to an early confession that the writer is in big trouble (because the arguments have already been defeated by painstaking philosophical evaluation in the past). Anyway, here are a few of these arguments:

1. The Freudian Argument (advanced in such books as 'The Future of an Illusion' and 'Civilization and its Discontents').

Sigmund Freud believed that religion is a self-deception in which man indulges in order to deny his own loneliness and fear, with God Himself being nothing more than a projection of the infant's loved, feared, and all-powerful father. Freud's schema was hardly new, atheistic philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach had said almost the same thing back in 1841, insisting that religion and God were all about comfort and consolation and that "God" was simply a projection of human longings for comfort and protection(consult 'Feuerbach and the Interpretation of Religion,' by A Harvey, Cambridge University Press, 1995).
The Freudian argument is that just as we must renounce infantile impulses, no matter how gratifying they may appear to be (that is, in order to avoid living our lives as helpless and ineffective), even so human society must also collectively renounce chaotic impulses so that many people may co-exist in a relatively stable manner in various societal structures. Morality, then, is seen as a reflection of the 'superego' (that is, that part of the unconscious mind concerned with right and wrong), while religion itself may be seen as an echo of the infantile, or childish, 'id' (the 'id' is usually defined as those primitive energies and instincts within one's unconscious mind which are the root of all psychological impulses). When Freud spoke of religion as an illusion, he maintained that it is a childish fantasy structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow towards maturity. In his treatment of the unconscious, Freud was, of course, firmly atheistic.

The writer of the essay makes this statement,

"Freud's two essays were the mature expression of decades of work with adults. He had not looked for morality or God; it merely occurred to him that what he had found might explain both."

This statement is, of course, somewhat disingenuous and very distinctly misleading; moreover, it flies in the face of what we know about 'the father of psycho-analysis.' Truth is: Freud was commited from the beginning to forming and developing a new 'science' of the mind which would render priest and pastor unrequired and redundant. Let us not pretend that he did not have an anti-religious agenda when he clearly did; he taught that the religious view is "so pathetically absurd and . . . infantile that it is humiliating and embarrassing to think that the majority of people will never rise above it." Apart from one very brief period of his life, when he had become influenced by the brilliant philosopher Franz Bratano, a devout believer, Freud never wavered in his atheism, so why attempt to 'soft-soap' this or to play it down?

Now before assessing this Freudian theory of morality, let me just say that Freud has now been so widely exposed that we really need to be a little careful in treating any comments from a Freudian base with any seriousness at all, since, as Richard Webster has so wisely pointed out,

"One of the most striking features of the mythology which has grown up around Freud during the twentieth century is that, in almost all cases, the source of the most powerful myths was none other than Freud himself." (page 33, 'Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis,' Basic Books, 1996).

Okay, so Freud is hardly now "authoritative" in any meaningful way; nevertheless, since his views are so warmly embraced by the current crop of aggressive atheistic propagandist writers, let us just briefly consider his view of morality and religion.

The Freudian view is, of course, a complete and abundantly manifest nonsense, indeed, one does not need to consider the view too deeply at all since its inconsistencies quickly jump out upon one. To simply consider the religion of Judaism itself, without even getting into Christianity at this stage, can one really compare a religious system which covered so many hundreds of years and which had a whole system of laws, often quite complex ones at that, involving the organisation, worship and sacrifice of many thousands of people, to an infant's unconscious and primitive yearnings and instincts? Such a foolish and ill-considered view could only come from one who has never studied the whole complex Judaistic system with its intricate network of laws, judgments and ethical standards. Such a view could only come from one who has never consulted the information within the Midrash or, more importantly, the Hebrew Bible.

Let us remind ourselves again that Freud seriously viewed religion as a self-deception in which the human race indulges in order to deny it's own loneliness and fear, with God Himself being nothing more than a projection of the infant's loved, feared, and all-powerful father. But could it ever be seriously postulated (I still find it hard to believe that Freud was being serious), that so many thousands of honest, intelligent and industrious people could be so victimized by a trick of the mind? Are people as gullible - and frankly stupid - as Freud would have us believe? Moreover, why would religion be some sort of a recipe to avoid loneliness and fearfulness when religious observance is often a hard and trying path with more than it's fair share of loneliness, and with the concept of a God who is to be feared and obeyed usually right at the centre of it all?? The closer one looks at the Freudian view, the more one finds inconsistencies and a careful selection of facts to fit the theory.

Now it is true, and very observable, that men and women are inherently religious (whether they deny it or not) but can such vast systems of religious observances and devotion (as may be observed within the major religions), merely be some trick of a naive and childlike mind's deepest psychological promptings?, Or is it far more reasonable to believe that the presence of religious observances in all cultures going back several thousands of years are an indication of an original revelation, including various interpretations and perversions of that original revelation? Much of what Freud wrote in many areas is no longer taken seriously, so why do the current atheistic preachers nevertheless accept his theories in an area where - it is surely fair to say - they are especially and manifestly awry, and will only work for a short time when presented before the distinctly unknowledgeable and blinkered?

2. The Jean Piaget 'Marbles Test.'

Next our essay writer considers the Jean Piaget 'Marbles Test.' The object of this exercise is to look for morality in very young children, who had not yet had the time to be exposed to a complex moral system in their secular or religious education, neither had these children yet developed the mental equipment to understand a complex, taught morality. If a 'morality' is found in such a scenario (the reasoning goes), then morality could not come from the divine, that is, it is a commodity which people just seem to have, or seem to naturally develop. The rules of marbles, after all (to quote the essayist), "...are to be found exclusively within the province of children, and are not a topic in which the state or the church has ever expressed much interest."

Apparently Piaget found several stages of development among small children,

"In the first phase, marbles were simply an object of motor skills, and infants engaged in standard behaviors of tasting them, burying them, piling them up, etc. Next, some of these behaviors became ritualized and repeated, as if associated with particular thoughts of the infants performing them.

Within two years, small children old enough to speak were making some effort to imitate the rules of the game as practiced by their elders. They did not have the mental equipment yet to remember or understand all these rules. Paradoxically, they considered the rules sacred, yet each child played only against himself even when with others, and there was no true competitive play under collective rules.

Later, children mastered the rules of marbles in competition with one another. A keen sense of fairness arose that influenced the creation and use of the rules. Finally, though fairness remained paramount, older children came to regard the rules as their collective creation, a contract they form to be able to play with one another."

Of course, all this rather silly example reveals is that small children tend to copy their elders. These children were obviously not cut off from real life during this very long series of exercises and they copied the tendency of all society to conform to rules, or to face censure for misbehaviour. These children were obviously doing other things besides playing marbles and they were, presumably, following parental guidelines in other areas. This therefore was a rather silly series of exercises which could prove absolutely nothing - least of all that mature societies will develop their own morality apart from God! And yet - despite this - the writer of 'Morality Without God' somewhat breathtakingly states,

" my mind, this research proves conclusively that humans are rules-creating animals and that God is not required as the explanation either of marbles or of morality."

Hmmm! With all due respect to the essayist, I must maintain that such a conclusion must be viewed as naive in the extreme! Again, those small children were not totally cut off from human society and placed in some sort of protected and isolated environment; they were simply copying the respect for rules which they were noting from their parent's teaching and guidance which, I understand, remained ongoing in other areas of their development. However, having raised four children myself, and been involved in a teaching environment as well as being a former foster carer, I note the comment, "A keen sense of fairness arose that influenced the creation and use of the rules" with a fairly high degree of suspicion! I think that such a comment may well be a matter of imaginative interpretation, or of the famed 'researcher's effect' (researchers usually set out with a particular agenda, and information resulting from such research tends to be coloured in a preferred hue)! Truth is: we all know that a group of small children, if left well alone, will oftentimes descend into chaotic behaviour, to put it mildly. In such a case, it is usually the strongest child, or children, who will normally set the rules and others will tend to follow, but this is no form of agreed 'morality' but, rather, a micro-dictatorship! The confident conclusion that "God is not required as the explanation either of marbles or of morality" is truly a most absurd extrapolation to make from an example which it is very hard to take seriously (even though the writer apparently does). Sometimes naivety seems to know no bounds, but for any who really do evaluate the 'Piaget marbles test' in such utter and esteemed seriousness, I have a used (er...actually abused) old car I would like to sell them!

3. The Biological Morality Explanation, and the 'Meme.'

Richard Dawkins, sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson and one or two others argue that the root of morality lies in the human gene. As our essayist expresses it,

"Dawkins argues for a moral calculus that justifies risk: individuals rescue others who represent a significant enough investment in the same genes to justify the risk, much more often than they rescue strangers (we rescue our offspring from danger most of all, as they represent our greatest investment in the future of our genes). Altruistic behavior involving personal risk otherwise flies in the face of common sense and the doctrine of 'survival of the fittest.'"

This argument is also now seen as rather weak and unconvincing. The underlying point is that so-called unselfish and altruistic behaviour is really only about improving and advancing our own 'gene pool' - the basic problem here is that there are such a huge number of examples which totally contradict it that one wonders how it could ever be seriously considered by apparently intelligent people! The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta did great and magnanimous deeds among the poor because of her belief in the love of Christ. She had totally renounced 'pleasures of the flesh' and she (and other religious zealots like her) had no possible interest - even unconsciously - of gene pool advancement! Neither is it true that people mostly perform acts of amazing bravery for those genetically 'close to home.' Lifeboat crews save the lives of all in peril on the seas - they are disinterested in race or gene pool. The concept that morality is simply a sort of ruse to advance one's own gene pool has now lost huge ground because it is so easily contradicted. Is it not incredible to consider the lengths that some will travel in order to avoid acknowledging that morality has a plainly Judeo/Christian base?

But what of the 'meme'?

Dawkins concluded his 1976 book, 'The Selfish Gene,' with a chapter called 'Memes--The New Replicators?' In this section he suggested that ideas, and groups of related ideas, all of which he called "memes," might behave like genes, replicating across human brains the way in which genes behave across human bodies - morality and religion could be such 'memes.' Of this concept, Alister McGrath has written,

"...On this model, religions might be memes that infect our brains. They are not necessarily parasitic, but could be symbiotic, conferring advantages on those who are infected." (source: 'The Spell of the 'Meme,' - ).

But during recent years the whole concept of the 'meme' has come under heavy and serious criticism. If, for example, we are being told that religious, or moral belief could be the result of the activities of 'memes' then surely this would also have to include devout atheistic or evolutionary belief? Indeed, what of any passionate belief? But, secondly, can this belief really be considered "scientific" in any meaningful way? The obviously intended comparison of a 'meme' with a gene is disingenuous (the pronounciation is similar), but genes may be observed, whereas the 'meme' is purely speculative. Professor Alister McGrath of Oxford University has written,

"First, the meme is just an hypothesis – one that we don’t need, as there are better models available – for example, in economics, but also in anthropology. If genes could not be seen, we would have to invent them – the evidence demands a biologically transmitted genetic replicator. Memes can’t be observed, and the evidence can be explained perfectly well without them. As Maurice Bloch - professor of anthropology at LSE – commented recently, the “exasperated reaction of many anthropologists to the general idea of memes” reflects the apparent ignorance of the proponents of the meme-hypothesis of the discipline of anthropology, and its major successes in the explanation of cultural development – without feeling the need to develop anything like the idea of a 'meme' at all." (source:'The Spell of the 'Meme,' - ).

Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge University also insists that 'memes' should not be taken seriously. He says,

"Memes are trivial, to be banished by simple mental exercises. In any wider context, they are hopelessly, if not hilariously, simplistic." (page 324, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge University Press, 2003).

So there you have it: explanations for morality as a separate entity from religion are not convincing, indeed, they often seem decidedly desperate. But, to conclude, we need to consider this:

Those who postulate such views in a desparate attempt to explain human decency and morality without God or religion, almost always support evolutionary theory to the hilt. And yet, if we all evolved from lowly slime through chance mutations over many millions of years (an explanation which most such people take completely seriously despite the mathematical odds informing us that it could not, I repeat, COULD NOT have happened), then the obvious conclusion of such a chance and godless universe must be that morality is completely meaningless. The more deep-thinking atheists know that this is a huge problem for them but they cannot live with the logical conclusion of their belief that life, love and morality have no meaning except for 'the survival of the fittest,' hence the desperate attempts to find a basis for morality completely separate from any concept of God, or of the divine.

Robin A. Brace, 2007.

This is a critique of the article, 'Morality Without God' as it appeared in November, 2007 here.